Tobacco banned — again

No smoking, in two languages, has been the policy at the Department of Human Services for a long time.

No chewing or smoking, in two languages, has been the policy at the Department of Human Services for a long time.

Since the first of the year, the governor's smoking ban has been in effect in most of Oregon state government. Wait a minute, you say. Wasn't smoking banned already? Yes, it has been, for many years. State law bans it in any work place, including bars and taverns. And now some colleges including Oregon State University have banned it on all their outdoor property as well. So what exactly did the governor's executive order accomplish?

Well, the governor's office says it will save money. The executive order says that according to "conservative estimates," state employees who smoke cost the state more than $13 million year. Really? How? Presumably by being sick more often and incurring health care costs that non-smokers avoid. But in my experience -- from the days when smoking was still accepted -- the smokers among our employees missed work no more frequently than non-smokers, and the people who called in sick with some regularity did not smoke at all. Still, who am I to doubt "conservative estimates" the state claims it has?

A survey reported by the Statesman Journal, the Salem newspaper, showed that 4 percent of Oregon's 50,000 state workers smoke. That means the number of smokers in the state work force is about 2,000. Now if those 2,000 are costing the state $13 million a year in extra expense, or $6,500 per smoker, here's what the governor could have done instead of posting a redundant ban: He could have made smokers this offer. "If you quit, we'll pay you half the money we save." Bet you that a $3,250 bonus for quitting would work better than sending hapless employees out across the street every break to have a smoke. (hh)

Donna Francis Thurman (via Facebook): Oh Hasso, you are SO entirely correct!  Rather than making us (State employees) feel like criminals at best, or some kind of lower life form, the governor could have done something different.  The MEMO that came out to all state employees even encouraged non-smoking employees to approach their smoking co-workers and tell them how bad smoking is for them and the community.  I'll see if I can get a copy of that for you.  (It also told them "not to be rude" when they did so!)  Another DUHHHH moment in state government.

Panel works to shrink liberty

The sign outside a Southern Oregon antique store seems to frame the question: Exchange guns, but for what?

The sign outside a Southern Oregon antique store seems to frame the question: Exchange guns, but for what?

The White House working group on gun control seems to be considering a comprehensive program to abrogate a key liberty in the Bill of Rights, the right to keep and bear arms. That's the gist of a report in the Washington Post on Sunday. The Post said the working group, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, was "seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal backgroud checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors."

That's quite a mishmash of proposals, and not easy to understand because of the vagueness of the summary description. Strengthen penalties for carrying guns near schools -- what does that mean? There are no penalties to strengthen.

The main thrust, though, is to spread a web of federal regulation and registration to cover all legal gun owners in America, which means about 45 percent of all U.S. households. The database idea suggests that citizens would be expected to register with the feds before exercising one of the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. That would certainly amount to an abrogation of the Second Amendment. It would be similar to requiring people to sign up with a national database to make use of the First Amendment and before writing a letter to the editor.

Assuming for the sake of argument that giving up a fundamental right of citizenship is ever worth the result, what good would these proposals do? No one can seriously believe they would prevent massacres by young men bent on destruction of self and others. Registration, more exhaustive background checks, penalties for giving minors guns, and laws against carrying guns near schools have no meaning at all for someone who -- like the Newtown shooter in Connecticut or Kip Kinkel in Oregon in 1998 -- murders his parents before going on to commit further crimes. (hh)

From Ray Kopczynski: "That would certainly amount to an abrogation of the Second Amendment." In this I do strongly disagree.  As a DAV & VFW member, I fully support your/my absolute right to "bear arms."  However, the framers of the 2nd amendment crafted very concise and very specific words in their elegant statement.  Notwithstanding the discussion that can be held around the meaning of the term “militia," they consciously wrote "well regulated" PRIOR to all the rest.  That carries massive meaning to me. I perceive no loss of liberty in seriously regulating arms.  I don't believe it should be more difficult to acquire a drivers license than to get a firearm.

A mid-valley destination: Helmick Park

Sarah Helmick State Park in Polk County makes a nice destination for a ride or drive, even in winter. Winter or summer, the park on the Luckiamute River is never crowded.

Drugs within 1,000 feet …

Since we are extra tough on drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, maybe we should have a similar law on drugs within 1,000 feet of a jail -- or any other building.

Since we are extra tough on drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, maybe we should have a similar law on drugs within 1,000 feet of a jail -- or any other building.

The day after Christmas, a Benton County deputy pulled over a 22-year-old man in the town of Monroe, in southern Benton County. The sheriff 's log says the deputy cited the driver for having neither a driver's license nor insurance. And while he was at it, he also gave him a citation for "unlawful possession of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school."

This, keep in mind, was around 7 p.m. on December 26. The school in question was just a building. Nobody was in it, at least no children. The students were on vacation and would not return till after the first of the year. The law might as well prohibit drug possession within 1,000 yards of convenience stores. That would make about as much sense, maybe more.

We've had this law for many years. But why exactly? In order to enhance the penalties when we catch people with illegal drugs, even marijuana, that's why. But what is the rationale? To protect children? School children are at no greater risk of anything if someone living 995 feet away has dope in his basement. They are at risk even less from someone driving by on the street outside, regardless of what's in the car, unless it's an unstable bomb that may go off at any time.

None of us wants to encourage drug use, especially among children in school. But our criminal laws ought to make some kind of logical sense. They ought to outlaw only those things that do some actual harm or represent real threats.

I've written about this law before, to absolutely no avail. I have no hope this time either, no expectation that our legislators will do something about this nonsensical provision regarding a thousand feet from a school. If making sense were a big requirement for the laws they pass, legislative sessions would be over a couple of weeks after they start. (hh)

Be a friend to wild birds

Here's a timely reminder about something we can do for the wild birds in our Oregon backyards this winter, even though on a day like Friday afternoon it seemed, for a brief time, like spring.

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