A little pollution reminder

Here's a little example of oil or gas pollution from parking lots and city streets that might end up in our rivers unless cities find a way to treat urban runoff.

Surprise! The Earth continues

Still spinning like crazy, our Mayan Earth.

Still spinning like crazy, our Mayan Earth.

So we're still here, more or less. What did the ancient Mayans know anyway? If they had been as smart as their calendar implies, they might still be around. Then they could explain the apparent ending date of their cosmos, or at least their way of reckoning time. But alas, they didn't endure nearly as long as the graphic depictions of their calendar. They proved unable to adapt to changing conditions. Their descendants still live in the wilds of Yucatan and elsewhere, but their civilization is gone. With their calendar, though, they provided a bit of entertainment more than a thousand years after their cities and temples were at their height. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, here we are. The apocalypse has been postponed. Good thing, too. Otherwise, what good the did Governor Kitzhaber do by signing a contract with Nike that guarantees the company that Oregon will not change its "single sales factor method" of corporate taxation for 30 years. Many of us won't be around in 30 years, but we can rest easy in the knowledge that Nike hopes to keep making sneakers and other useful stuff -- including lots of money -- for at least that long. (hh)

An Albany issue: What kind of majority?

The Albany City Council, seen here in an unrelated work session this month, may eventually have to consider what the words in the initiative mean.

The Albany City Council, seen here in an unrelated work session in December 2012, may eventually have to consider what the words in the initiative mean.

Albany faces a possible complication with a voter initiative coming up for an election in three months. The issue could be explosive, but it need not be if handled with common sense.

The initiative, one of two launched by North Albany resident Tom Cordier, attempts to limit the city government's debt to the amount that existed on Feb. 28, 2012. Based on the wording of the initiative, its opponents including Mayor Sharon Konopa say that in order to approve any debt, a majority of all the city's roughly 25,000 voters would have to vote yes. The wording requires an absolute majority, they say, not just a majority of those voting.

If that's true, then Section 23 of Article II of the Oregon constitution, approved in 1998, also requires an absolute majority to enact the Albany initiative in the first place. No one can remember an absolute majority ever approving any money measure in Albany. So even if the debt-limit measure gets a simple majority in the election -- more than half of the votes cast -- it still would likely fail. You can see how that would enrage all the people who signed the petition to get it on the ballot.

But I don't think it needs to come to that. Rereading the debt initiative, I no longer think it requires an absolute majority to approve any debt increase. "Only with the approval of a majority of Albany city electors in a primary, special or general election shall Albany City be allowed to increase indebtedness above the 28 February 2012 level," the measure reads. There is no comma between "electors" and what follows. It refers to "electors in a primary, special or general election." The plain meaning, it seems to me, is that it refers to electors who vote in any of those elections.

It is true that the dictionary defines "elector" as "someone who elects or may elect, a qualified voter." But in the city charter, there already is a provision that relates to this question. It says that annexations to the city "may only be approved by a prior majority vote among the electorate." Here the dictionary is clear. "Electorate" means "the body of persons entitled to vote in an election." Several annexations have been approved since this requirement was added, also in 1998. It's possible they got absolute majorities, but I doubt it, and no one made an issue of it at the time. Clearly it has been the city's custom to interpret words the way a reasonable person would.

The election on the debt initiative is on March 12. The measure strikes me as a bad policy because no one knows what kind of debt it would limit, and general-obligation debt -- the kind that authorizes additional property taxes to repay ---  is already subject to voter approval. I hope the measure gets more no votes than yes. If that happens, there won't be any argument about what the outcome means. (hh)

Prison terms need reform

The Oregon legislature will get the commission's report when it meets in 2013.

The Oregon legislature will get the commission's report when it meets in 2013.

Oregon could do a better job managing how it sentences criminals to prison, and if it did, it would save tons of money. In a nutshell that's the finding of the Governor's Commission on Public Safety, one of whose members was state Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany.

The commission's report, delivered to the governor on Dec. 19, runs to 29 pages. I recommend you look it up online and read it yourself. If you do, you will avoid falling victim to the usual shorthand reporting about the report's recommendations. The press can't do justice to 29 pages of careful analysis and dozens of recommendations and options, complete with the rationale for each one.

For instance, if you hear that the commission wants to lessen the mandatory minimum prison sentences for three offenses -- second-degree robbery and assault, ands first-degree sex abuse --  your first reaction is likely to be "No way!" So it helps to read in the report that sex abuse 1 "includes everything from an adult patting the clothed buttocks of a 13-year-old for purposes of sexual arousal to forcible sexual contact short of rape." When you read that, you will agree that the different offenses do not need the same mandatory minimum term.

The commission made recommendations in 10 areas, from making Oregon marijuana sentences less severe in some cases, to allowing people on post-prison supervision to gain "earned time" by good behavior. If the legislature goes along with all or most of these proposals, the commission estimates that Oregon prisons will have nearly 800 fewer inmates in two years and nearly 2,500 fewer in 10.

Today the prison population is more than 14,000. Without a change it is estimated to grow by 2,300 in 10 years. At a cost of more than $80 a day per inmate now, you can see why it's urgent to send fewer people behind bars for as long as we do. (hh)

Gun control: What kind?

In the Oregon Senate, a bill to restrict some guns or magazines is expected to be introduced when the legislature convenes in 2013.

In the Oregon Senate, a bill to restrict some guns or magazines is expected to be introduced when the legislature convenes in 2013.

Everywhere you turn now, on the air and in print, there is talk about new efforts at more "gun control." Nobody so far has explained what that would mean in detail, and depending on the details, how it would prevent shootings in places where there are a lot of people, whether it's an assembly hall at Fort Hood, a political rally, a shopping mall, a movie theater or a grade school full of little kids.

A couple of senators want to re-enact a "ban on assault rifles." Even assuming lawmakers can figure out exactly what they mean by "assault rifles," what kind of ban are they talking about? A ban on manufacturing, or on imports? A ban on sales, which also would be relatively easy to enforce? Or are they talking about a ban on ownership? If that's what they mean, they would have to be prepared for drastic measures to confiscate all the ones now in private hands.

The same question comes up if we're talking about a ban on "high-capacity" magazines, or the semi -automatic weapons in which such magazines can be used. Would the Oregon legislature or Congress be willing to outlaw ownership of those items? Would they expect their owners to hand them over?

Or would state and federal lawmakers be willing to authorize attempts to round up all the firearms or gun components that they are intending to ban? And would they be willing to set aside a part of the Bill of Rights to do so? Maybe not, but Congress was perfectly willing to trample on the Bill of Rights after another horrible event, on 9/11/2001. Perfectly innocent Americans still carry their shoes in airports and can be barred from traveling by air. So don't expect words on parchment to deflect attacks on any of our civil rights when emotions run high. (hh)

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