Making cigarettes illegal?


Keeping watch on the Oregon legislature.

Keeping watch on the Oregon legislature.

Just what we need -- another illegal drug. That's what state Rep. Mitch Greenlick apparently wants. The Portland Democrat has introduced a bill, House Bill 2077, that would make possession of nicotine a crime. We are talking about cigarettes here, or really any kind of tobacco. The bill says it would create the crime of unlawful possession of nicotine, which would be punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of $6,250. It also would create the crime of unlawful distribution of nicotine, punishable in the same way. And it would direct the State Board of Pharmacy to adopt rules making nicotine a Schedule III controlled substance.

Now, this bill does not really stand a chance of passage in the legislature this year, or any year. So why does a legislator go to the trouble of having it written up and copies published online and in print? Maybe he just wants to get across a message -- that nicotine is bad for you because it comes in the form of cigarettes, and maybe for other reasons too. But we already get that message, don't we? The campaign against smoking has been going on since the 1960s.

Or maybe the Portland legislator just wants to be forthright. After all, we've had public condemnation of smoking for a long time, and increasingly smoking is against the law. It's prohibited in workplaces, and now it's banned on all state property -- both indoors and out. Other legislation pending in the legislature would ban smoking in cars when children are present. So why not go all out and just ban cigarettes?

That's what Greenlick may be thinking. Then we'd have yet another illegal drug that some people crave so much they would use it regardless of the law. More work for the police and the courts and eventually the jails -- just what Oregon needs. (hh)

From Keith Underdahl: In my experience I have not found Representative Greenlick to be guided by reason or truth. Even before I read the article, when I saw the headline my first thought was, "This must be Greenlick's idea." Who are the fools who keep voting for him?
Keep up the good work on the blog,

From Steve A. Brown, via Facebook: Apparently, Greenlick doesn't have enough to do to keep busy. Perhaps he should attend a remediation course on how to develop and write a realistic bill.
From Jill Morgan, via Facebook: Perhaps he should have to personally pay for all the costs involved with introducing such a bill....if that were the case perhaps people would be much less likely to waste time/money!
From  Hazel Siebrecht: Maybe they can put this aside and work on another earth-shaking bill, banning plastic bags.  Isn't that about as silly? Don't tackle PERS or our desperate need of jobs, especially in the timber industry. Soon there will not be enough taxes to pay their wages.


Immigration reform: Not so fast

100_0247President Obama says now's the time for immigration reform. Easier said than done, obviously.

One question: If we have lived with illegal immigration and its consequences for 40 or 50 years, what makes dealing with it so urgent now? But let's look at the details.

An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in the United States. Most work and most pay at least some taxes. The number of people arrested for illegally crossing from the Mexican side of the border last fiscal year was 356,873. The Border Patrol says the number was below the long-term average. So illegal entry may have slowed, but it's still going on in very large numbers.

Obama and some senators now have announced different plans. They involve letting undocumented immigrants become citizens eventually if they learn English and meet other conditions; securing the border (though Obama says this has already been done); cracking down on employers hiring illegal immigrants, and admitting more high-tech workers from abroad. The senators also want a farm worker program, but Obama doesn't. Obama does want a provision allowing former illegals to bring their relatives.

Each one of these points stirs up serious disagreements. Why, for example, import more high-tech workers at the disadvantage of Americans in those fields? Employers want it, sure, but what employers want is not necessarily good for citizens or the country. In the proposed path to citizenship, illegals would have to go to the back of the line behind legal applicants. So that 11 million, the number of illegals, apparently would not be reduced for quite a while. And the crackdown on employers would make the United States even more of a bureaucracy tied down with red tape than it already is.

The upshot? Immigration reform may turn out to be another step in lessening the freedom for which this country used to be known. (hh)

The goal: Higher property taxes

The Capitol last December. A Senate tax proposal would mean Christmas all year for local governments if the legislature puts it on the ballot and voters approve it.

The Capitol last December. A Senate tax proposal would mean Christmas all year for local governments if the legislature puts it on the ballot and voters approve it.

Don't look now, but they want to increase your property taxes. By "they," I mean the majority of those senators who were on the state Senate Interim Committee on Finance and Revenue. They have introduced a constitutional amendment that would remove the property tax limits where local option tax levies are concerned.

This has been a priority of local government officials around the state. They complain that as voters approve more levies, the constitutional limits on property taxes cause each one to collect less revenue. So, one of the Senate tax committee's proposals is to do away with those limits on local option levies.

Those are the levies which, once approved by voters, allow local governments to impose taxes beyond their fixed and permanent tax rates. But the total tax limit of $15 per $1,000 of real market value, set by Measure 5 in 1990, still applies. This is protection for homeowners. It keeps the tax rates on individual properties from going out of sight. The Senate committee now wants to do away with that protection. It also wants local option levies to be good for 10 years, instead of five years, which is the limit now. And its proposal would allow local governments to seek voter renewal of option levies at any election, not just the primary and general, starting two years before any levy expires.

Combined, these proposed changes -- part of Senate Joint Resolution 10 -- would surely lead to a proliferation of special levies being piled on top of each other, instead of being partially replaced by each other as now. The likely result would be more local government revenue. That's the goal. And that would mean a bigger tax bill for you. Republicans in the legislature, who fought tax increases in the past, are in no position to stop this plan now. So you will most likely see it on the ballot in 2014. If you want to pay more, get ready to vote yes. (hh)

From Ray Kopczynski: "Those are the levies which, once approved by voters...its proposal would allow local governments to seek voter renewal...Combined, these proposed changes...would surely lead to a proliferation of special levies being piled on top of each other..."

Yes.  However it would be by the VOTER's choice. (Note that it does not say "electors.") As it now stands (as a homeowner), I do not even have the option to vote "No" if I so choose.  As for "piled on top of each other..." I would suggest that intelligent voters can read what their added costs will be if they vote for them and they do pass...  I would also suggest it will be an uphill battle to get multiples approved at any given time.

Coal trains and Albany

Amtrak's Coast Starlight heads north out of Albany on the Union Pacific main line. Would coal trains lead to expanding the line's capacity?

Amtrak's Coast Starlight heads north out of Albany on the Union Pacific main line. Would coal trains lead to expanding the line's capacity?

See the reaction at the end.The coal train controversy has come to Albany, unlikely as the prospect of actual coal transport through the mid-valley seems.

A local group led by Peter Goodman of North Albany is worried about the plans by the Port of Coos Bay to become a coal-export terminal. This plan would entail two long trains a day carrying coal on the Union Pacific main line.

Local opponents have organized a public forum from 6 to 8 p.m. on February 17 at the main Albany Public Library. They cite coal dust as their main concern, along with crossing blockages and of course the main reason the environmental movement is opposed: They want to stop the burning of coal in order to slow down global warming.

Coal dust may or may not be a problem. If it is, the railroads carrying coal would have to take measures to prevent it. Meanwhile, though, the Coos Bay plan, if realized at all, would take many years to become reality. If there are problems, there's plenty of time to work them out.

If in fact the Union Pacific had to move two coal trains a day from the Portland area to Eugene, this might be the impetus for expanding the capacity of the main line, which could have benefits for Albany. For one thing, if the Queen Avenue crossing was shut down for even longer periods to accommodate slow-moving coal trains, this would be an incentive to solve that traffic problem, which is generations old. Since the rail and street grades can't be separated there, the answer is to close the street and build a grade separation farther south. Likewise, expansion of the line would make more urgent Albany's proposed construction of the 53rd Avenue overpass, which is necessary anyway if industrial land east of the rail line is ever to be developed.

And finally, expansion of the main line for coal trains would also solve the problem of where to route increased passenger trains. Once the line's capacity is quadrupled, there would be no sense putting more passenger trains anywhere else. (hh)

From Ted Salmons: Great article.  I grew up in Eastern Kentucky (read coal).  Across the river from West Virginia (read more coal).  Now I'll admit there are some problems with the mining methods in that part of the country but that's not the issue with your article.  I've seen railroad right of ways that have had uncountable numbers of coal trains passing across them for decades.  And in the spring and summer they are as vibrant, green and blooming as anywhere else in the area.  If the coal industry was "losing" anywhere the amount of product the opponents claim, they would have covered the cars years ago and the railroad right of ways would have burst into flames long before now.
In WV they usually spray slight amounts of dihydrogen monoxide (read cheap and available) on the loads of coal to keep the dust to a minimum during transport.  Hopefully the opponents won't go high and to the right when they find that out.

From Jody: After reading the comment from your other reader, about spraying DHMO, I googled that and found this on widipedia, if that is to be a trusted source:
Dihydrogen monoxide:
is called "hydroxyl acid", the substance is the major component of acid rain.
contributes to the "greenhouse effect".
may cause severe burns.
is fatal if inhaled.
contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:
as an industrial solvent and coolant.
in nuclear power plants.
in the production of Styrofoam.
as a fire retardant.
in many forms of cruel animal research.
in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
as an additive in certain "junk-foods" and other food products.

Editor's note: Dihydrogen monoxide is another was of saying H2O, and Wikipedia is not above carrying a satirical entry.

Good news news for Albany ratepayers — unless

Part of the Albany council at work on Monday, during a work session.

Part of the Albany council at work on Monday, during a work session.

There's good news for customers of the Albany city water system, assuming that voters don't erase part of it with the initiative election that ends March 12.

The good news: Last year, when the price of water was raised 3 percent, Albany's public works department projected the price would have to rise 4 percent in 2013 in order to keep up with expenses. On Monday (Jan. 27) Public Works Director Mark Shepard was able to tell the city council that only a 2 percent hike, half of what was projected, would be required this year. That's because, he said, the department paid careful attention to controlling costs, and even with the smaller increase, the city could still meet debt service payments and meet the annual target of spending $1.25 million on repairs and capital projects.

The debt service is on a $40 million revenue bond the city sold about 10 years ago to finance a new water treatment plant and other work. Now, because of low interest rates, the city plans to refinance that debt, and if that's successful, it would save about $150,000 a year, which could be used to hold future annual water rate hikes below the percentages now projected to be necessary.

The refinancing assumes that Albany voters reject the pending debt limit initiative, or that the ban of "new debt" without voter approval does not apply to refinancing. It's hard to say exactly what "new debt" means. Normally, if the city issues a debt instrument it did not have before, the plain language says it would be "new" even if it replaces a former debt. So depending on what the courts eventually say if the ballot measure passes, and whether the measure can truly limit debt retroactively to last Feb. 28 as it purports to do, approval of the debt limit might prevent the refinancing that would save ratepapers money. Surely that's not what the proponents of this initiative had in mind. (hh)


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