Editorials from Oregon newspapers
Albany Democrat-Herald, Feb. 4, on how a collaborative legislative session would serve Oregon well:
Although legislators gathered last month in Salem for three days of orientation and organizing, the 2013 legislative session really gets under way today, and the early signs suggest that this could be an unusually interesting session.
The story lines are intriguing: For example, how much clout will Gov. John Kitzhaber have over this Legislature, where Democrats hold majorities in each house? The possible answer: Less than you might think, considering the cautious reaction Democratic leaders have given to some of the governor's proposals to reform the state's top-heavy Public Employees Retirement System.
In fact, it's been a curious sight indeed, watching Kitzhaber's proposals elicit warmer reactions from Republicans than Democrats. And Kitzhaber has drawn strong marks lately from state business leaders, another group that doesn't necessarily automatically align itself with Democrats.
Kitzhaber, of course, is rolling the budget dice on PERS reform, betting that he can free up millions of dollars to funnel into state education. It's not the first time that Kitzhaber has taken a little bit of a gamble to balance the budget — and, in fact, many of the health reforms that highlighted the 2011 session need follow-up during this session.
That 2011 session, in which Democrats and Republicans were tied in the House and Democrats held the narrowest of advantages in the Senate, may also have offered some clues for success in the 2013 session.
With the balance of power so narrowly balanced in 2011, collaboration was critical. Even though Democrats hold more substantial advantages in 2013, that collaboration may well be crucial in this session as well — especially with Kitzhaber's key proposals exposing some unexpected fault lines between the parties.
It's the start of the session, so everyone's talking a good game now about the importance of bipartisanship. Check back with us in a couple of months on that point, and we might well have a good indication of how successful this session will be.
Kitzhaber himself offers another possible lesson for legislative success: He's been remarkably focused thus far in his third term, doing a good job at avoiding distractions that could pull attention away from his key goals. This is part of the reason why this session seems unlikely to move the dial much on gun control or the death penalty: There's no appetite for such potentially divisive topics among either Kitzhaber or the legislative leadership.
But that level of focus might result in a session that does good work on the some of the biggest issues facing the state: PERS reform; kick-starting a stalled economy; helping the private sector create jobs; rethinking the state's corrections policies; building a smart and sustainable budget.
A session that stays focused and puts a premium on collaborative behavior, with partnerships that stretch across the aisle, would almost certainly be a session that serves Oregon well.
The Oregonian, Feb. 2, on improving education funding and function for Oregon colleges:
Jose Esparza, a "success coach" for students at Portland Community College, describes his goal in simple terms.
"We believe in students," he says, "until they are ready to believe in themselves."
Esparza helps disadvantaged students navigate a college campus well enough to earn a degree, get job certification or transfer to a university. This work is part of PCC's mission to help more students thrive in college, rather than simply enroll and fend for themselves.
Efforts like these deserve attention, as Oregon tries to push all of its community colleges and universities to boost their students' graduation rates and job prospects. Though colleges can't easily provide success coaches to all students, they can certainly boost their overall graduation rates by working to lower the barriers that disadvantaged students so starkly face.
PCC offers several programs aimed at assisting first-generation, lower-income students, including a Future Connect scholarship program and numerous partnerships with high schools in the Portland metro area. Despite ongoing funding challenges, PCC's work has received attention from the state for helping students who might otherwise lack the foundation to succeed.
The extra help varies, but it often includes individual counseling, financial aid, career planning and tutoring. Esparza, for example, teaches a college-survival class, where students learn about time management and the importance of persistence. He says he also helps students navigate the financial aid office and deal with any red flags before classes start: Routine problems with class registration or payment can permanently derail a first-time college student.
Meanwhile, PCC says it's trying to make registration, financial aid and transferring credits more customer-friendly for all students. It's working especially closely with Portland State University, where many PCC students transfer in search of a bachelor's degree. It's more efficient to simplify the process for everyone, college leaders are finding, rather than maintain systems that require a lot of hand-holding.
Oregon remains in the middle of a massive restructuring of its education system from preschool to college. The intent is to redefine success around what comes next, so that preschoolers are ready for kindergarten, high schoolers are ready for college or career training, and college graduates are equipped to land a decent job.
"We just need to step up our game, all of us, pre-K to 20," says retiring college president Preston Pulliams.
This process has exposed some real weaknesses in Oregon's education system, including below-average funding and unsustainable spending. And it has revealed how many teenagers leave high school — both as graduates and dropouts — without the academic preparation, career guidance or personal grounding to be successful adults. Oregon needs significant reinvestment and reform at the K-12 level to boost the state's 68 percent graduation rate and to make sure more high school students know how to pass a college class, nail a job interview and work toward a goal.
Meanwhile, Oregon needs more people like Jose Esparza to fill in the gaps.
And colleges need to care as much about the success of their graduates as they do about the size of their next incoming class.
The Register-Guard, Feb. 5, on why the Oregon Legislature should take careful steps to protect privacy from threats from unmanned drones:
Before drones become commonplace in Oregon skies, the state Legislature should take carefully measured steps to protect public privacy and safety from threats posed by both public- and private-sector use of the unmanned aircraft.
The drone revolution will become reality in Oregon and elsewhere across the country far more quickly than many people expect. Last year the Federal Aviation Administration estimated that 10,000 drones will be in use in U.S. airspace within the next five years. Others estimate the number at two times, even three times, that amount.
Used for many years by the U.S. military for overseas surveillance and combat missions, drones provide state and local law-enforcement agencies with a relatively low-cost alternative to the helicopters and airplanes that are currently used for search-and-rescue missions, manhunts, SWAT-team operations, car chases and traffic control.
Meanwhile, industry experts anticipate a multibillion dollar market for civilian drones, and Congress last year directed the Federal Aviation Authority to prepare regulations for civilian drone operations by 2015.
Relying on Congress to get a vitally important job done correctly in a timely manner is hardly a safe bet these days. So lawmakers in at least a half dozen states, including Oregon, have begun considering legislation that would regulate the use of unmanned aircraft by private companies, citizens, and law enforcement agencies.
In Oregon, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, have introduced separate bills that would, among other things, make it a crime to use drones to fire bullets or missiles or to spy on people. Prozanski recently explained to The (Portland) Oregonian newspaper that he drafted his legislation, Senate Bill 71, in part because "the last thing I think people want to do is look outside their picture window or their bedroom window and see a drone."
Any time there is billions of dollars to be made in an emerging industry, an effort to regulate that industry is certain to prompt determined and well-funded opposition, and that is likely to be the case in Oregon.
Consider, for example, that Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary and major developer of drones, is located in the Hood River area of the Columbia River Gorge where an estimated 500 employees test and develop new drone designs.
Meanwhile, economic development officials in Central Oregon who are pushing for the Bend area to become a hub for drone testing already have served notice that legislative efforts to regulate drones will endanger efforts to recruit manufacturers.
That needn't be the case. There is plenty of time for industry representatives to work with lawmakers, aviation experts, civil liberties groups and others to make sure that legislation not only protects public privacy and safety, but that it doesn't impose unnecessary restrictions on the operation, manufacture and testing of drones in Oregon.
Prozanski's and Huffman's concerns about the need to regulate the domestic use of drones by public agencies, private companies and, for that matter, private citizens are valid — especially in the absence of anything resembling comprehensive federal regulations.
Let the drone conversation begin.