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Don’t close geology office

Mining precious metals hasn’t been a big business in Baker County for more than half a century.

But that’s no reason for the state geology department to close its office in Baker City.

We understand that the state government is short on money.

As much as $4.4 billion short for the two-year period that starts July 1, in fact.

An electric silence

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski tooled around in at least two electric cars this week.

The governor’s test drives attracted quite a lot of media attention, although perhaps not as much as when Kulongoski eschewed vehicles altogether and hiked to his office last year.

Yet based on the accounts we have read it seems no one bothered to ask the governor if he knew how the electricity that propelled them had been generated.

This seems to us a significant omission considering Kulongoski’s opinion on what constitutes renewable energy.

Boost for biomass

It turns out that fallen limbs are good for something besides tripping careless hikers.

Powering your car, for instance.

In the publicly owned forests in Northeastern Oregon the ground is littered with tens of thousands of tons of limbs, twigs and other woody debris that could be made into ethanol.

Except some members of Congress, in a move that qualifies as egregiously illogical even by that body’s standards, seems to prefer we left the stuff lying around to waylay walkers.

Or, worse still, to fuel a summer wildfire rather than your sedan.

City misuses meetings law

Baker City officials and the City Council violated at the least the spirit of Oregon’s public meetings law on March 10 when they discussed, during an executive session closed to the public, City Manager Steve Brocato’s proposal to privatize the city’s planning department.

As its name implies, the public meetings law is supposed to ensure that city councils and other public bodies conduct their business during meetings open to the public.

The law does, however, allow public entities to discuss certain topics during executive sessions. The public is not allowed to attend such sessions. The news media can sit in, but most reporters agree not to report on the sessions (although the law does not prohibit reporters from doing so).

Yes to checkpoints

Oregon is a maverick among states, and in some respects we’re proud of our state’s independent streak.

We hardly ever walk out of a store feeling sad that we didn’t have to pay sales tax, for instance.

But we don’t boast about Oregon’s membership in the club of 12 states where police can’t legally set up roadblocks to look for drunken drivers.

Oregon’s Legislature, which is meeting in Salem, has recently been discussing these so-called “sobriety checkpoints.”

Take the initiative

Oregon’s wide-open initiative system, which allows ordinary people to put pretty much any matter on the ballot and let voters decide, is one of those political quirks, like our aversion to a sales tax and self-service gas pumps, that make the state unique.

But some people think the state’s system is too lenient.

The list includes Oregon’s new Secretary of State, Kate Brown.

Brown has introduced legislation, House Bill 2500, which she contends would curb abuses of the initiative system while preserving citizens’ rights to take their case to voters.

A bill with real pork

Feral pigs aren’t a major problem in Oregon.

Not yet.

But wild swine, which reproduce with disturbing rapidity, have the ability to wreak havoc on the state, including its valuable farm and ranch ground.

“They can tear up crops and rangelands overnight,” said Rick Boatner, invasive species coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

GOP bright ideas

Republicans don’t have an abundance of influence in Salem these days, but the minority party’s leaders have floated some ideas that the majority Democrats ought to consider.

At the top of that list is the GOP’s proposal to trim income tax withholding tables by 4.2 percent.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, who represents Baker County, estimates that change will boost Oregonians’ income by $100 million this year.

Reasonable changes to state ethics law

Oregon legislators haven’t forgotten last spring’s rash of resignations by mayors, city councilors and other officials in rural areas.

Several dozen officials, including more than a dozen in Northeastern Oregon, quit in protest of the Oregon Ethics Reform Act.

That law, which requires officials to fill out forms describing their sources of income (but not the amounts), is designed to ensure that mayors, councilors and others don’t abuse their positions for financial gain.

Ethanol optional

We understand that the Oregon Legislature has multibillion-dollar dilemmas to deal with, but we’re glad lawmakers have gotten around to another problem: Ethanol.

Last year a state law took effect that requires service stations to sell gas that contains 10 percent ethanol.

Ethanol is a plant-based fuel that doesn’t produce as much pollution as gasoline.

But ethanol is not without faults.

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