How was John Ackroyd, a longtime state highway mechanic who is linked to four killings and one rape near Highway 20, allowed to collect a public employee pension even while in prison for aggravated murder? Ackroyd had worked as a state employee from Jan. 13, 1978 through July 31, 1992, when he was fired by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The agency terminated him after he was indicted on murder charges. Ackroyd had worked as a mechanic for the agency’s Highway Division. While incarcerated, he continued to collect an annual $43,488 pension from the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System. The state pays pension benefits to anyone who has applied for them and qualifies, said Marjorie Taylor, senior policy director for PERS. That goes for convicted murderers serving life in prison because criminal convictions don’t affect a retirees’ eligibility. “He was due a benefit, he earned a benefit and we had to pay it,” Taylor said.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
For the National Park Service and many other agencies, funding runs out at midnight Dec. 21. And while the 75 percent of the government whose budget bills are already approved will be unaffected, the remaining 25 percent include some high-profile agencies and departments. Among them: Homeland Security, Transportation, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Justice. Independent agencies, including NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency will also be closed. The FDA “does routine, unannounced inspections,” Food Safety News wrote in January. “During these partial government shutdowns, FDA likely ceases routine checks while using its ‘essential’ personnel on problems that arise.” But within those agencies, some 420,000 employees are “excepted” in government parlance from furloughs, that is, they are considered essential, and will be on the job, but they won’t be getting paychecks. They include law-enforcement officers at the: FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration.
A state senator caught on tape slipping anonymous packets under the doors of at least seven other senators last month has been warned his conduct could be considered workplace harassment. The letter’s public disclosure is the latest in a series of actions by Boquist that have raised eyebrows and prompted concern at the Capitol. Boquist’s conduct recently drew a written warning from the Legislature’s top in-house lawyer, Dexter Johnson. “I strongly urge you to be mindful your actions and the appearance of your actions so that concerns about workplace harassment are not raised again,” Johnson, the legislative counsel, wrote in a “memo of concern” dated Dec. 5. Such communications are typically confidential, but Boquist himself disclosed the memo Friday by distributing it to senators and having it posted on a legislative website.
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
The Innocence Project is working on legislation that has the goal of making it easier for people to get DNA testing after a conviction to prove their innocence usually when they’re serving life or lengthy sentences for murder and rape. The legislation also would overcome roadblocks that can prevent DNA evidence from being uploaded into the national database to check for matches. If passed, the changes could end Oregon’s distinction as one of only 13 states with no convicts who have been exonerated with DNA evidence. “We always say DNA’s the gold standard of evidence,” said Michelle Feldman, a legislative strategist with the Innocence Project. “DNA can reveal the truth. It’s so important that wrongfully convicted people can access that evidence.”
If Oregon lawmakers are going to pass legislation to address climate change, 2019 could very well be their year. Such legislation has been floating around the capitol in one form or another for a decade. But it remains deeply controversial because of its complexity, its potential cost to consumers and businesses, and ongoing questions over what works. Contrary to past efforts, however, most of the forces in Salem are now pulling in the same direction.
On Dec. 11, family members of the victims joined Oregon lawmakers and State of Safety Action, a new Oregon nonprofit advocating for improved gun safety, to back state legislation that would institute storage requirements for firearms. Named for the victims, the Cindy Yuille and Steve Forsyth Act would enact fines for gun owners who do not properly store firearms, secure firearms during transport, or report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours of discovery. Gun owners who leave their firearms unsecured would also be financially liable for damages resulting from another person using the firearms.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
“We legislate things all the time as a society to say this is wrong,” Stein said. “This is not acceptable, and I think in this case, this is one of those areas where we were saying there was no legitimate purpose for a bump stock.” “It’s not used for hunting. It’s not used for target practice. It’s not used for self-defense. It’s not used for home defense. We don’t need them on the other side. It was responsible for killing 58 people — let’s not have these.”
In the state-based programs already in place, students receive a scholarship for the amount of tuition that is not covered by existing state or federal aid. Most, like Tennessee, are “last-dollar” scholarships, meaning the program pays for whatever tuition and fees are left after financial aid and other grants are applied. Based on the early evidence, “we’ve seen access increasing,” said Sara Goldrick Rab, a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University. “It’s absolutely a good start.”
Oregon’s suicide rate is regularly above the national average. After consulting with Dwight Holton, the CEO of Lines for Life, a Portland nonprofit that works on suicide prevention, Wyden today approached the Federal Communications Commission with an ask: Let’s treat suicide like the public health emergency it clearly is. “I believe that a 3-digit code number, similar to 9-1-1 for emergencies, would most easily come to mind for those in need of intervention services,” Wyden wrote. “A new designated 3 digit code, such as 6-1-1, which has been recommended by my friends from Oregon Lines for Life, would be best because we need a dedicated hotline for only this issue.”
The Bend Bulletin
Evidence is mounting to support the idea that common childhood infections such as strep can trigger an immune response attacking the brain, causing the abrupt onset of behavioral changes or mental illness. Known as pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome, or PANS, it is a scenario that could be affecting as many as one out of every 200 children. Yet, few doctors recognize the condition or know how to treat it. Some deny the condition even exists. That’s left the parents of the affected children to push for greater recognition, advocate for laws to require insurance coverage and trade information about which doctors will help them diagnose and treat it.
Drive almost anywhere in the Willamette Valley and you’ll pass hazelnut orchards. Laser-perfect rows fill the Mid-Valley landscape, more plentiful than wine grapes, berries or hop bines. If hazelnut orchards already seem to be everywhere, get used to it. Some 70,000 acres of Willamette Valley farmland are planted in hazelnuts trees and farmers are expected to plant 8,000 more acres each year.The 2018 harvest yielded about 47,000 tons, but by 2025, the yield is expected to be 90,000 tons annually. For comparison, Oregon’s wine grape industry covered about 34,000 acres and harvested 91,000 tons of wine grapes in 2017. The major factor fueling expansion is that, through crop breeding, Oregon State University has developed hazelnut varieties resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight, the scourge responsible for crippling older orchards.
Since resistant cultivars made their debuts in the late ’90s and early 2000s, hazelnuts have become a favorite among Oregon growers. The crop is both high-value and low-maintenance. The trees have modest water needs and an ability to self-pollinate without bees or other insects.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is presenting its annual report on homelessness to Congress this week. The data, based on a national point-in-time count, show that Oregon again ranks near the top of states in terms of the percentage its homeless population that are living “unsheltered,” i.e. on the streets, in vehicles, parks or other places not designated for humans to sleep. The 100-page HUD report is full of grim findings. Homelessness nationally rose for the second year in a row after bottoming in 2016 and black Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by homelessness. “While accounting for 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans account for 40 percent of all people experiencing homelessness and 51 percent of people experiencing homelessness as members of families with children,” the report says.
Portland is already on track to meet Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek’s goal of eliminating almost all single-family zoning. The idea is controversial, however, and will likely spark conflict before both the Oregon Legislature and City Council next year. Kotek, who represents parts of North and Northeast Portland, plans to ask the 2017 Legislature to allow duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes in single-family zones in cities with more than 10,000 residents. Her goal is encourage the construction a greater variety of homes that are more affordable than single-family houses. The commission is currently recommending that 96 percent of the single-family neighborhoods be rezoned relatively small multifamily projects. Duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes can also be larger than single-family homes — up to 3,500 square feet for a triplex or four-plex, compared to 2,500 square feet for a single family homes.
The Bend Bulletin
Oliver Tatom, a paramedic, part-time nursing student and father of two, is on a mission: He wants his school, Central Oregon Community College, to provide on-campus child care. “For me, (child care expenses) meant putting off applying to nursing school. I didn’t go back to school until I had at least one kid in kindergarten because it was too expensive,” Tatom, 39 said. “For others, it was just an additional source of stress; it was missing class, being late to class.”
As the student president of COCC’s nursing school, Tatom, of Bend, said he feels its his duty to speak for his fellow students, many of whom have also struggled to find child care, a problem felt throughout Central Oregon. His 4-year-old son, Dean, is enrolled at Inspire Early Learning Centers’ east Bend campus, which costs $800 per month.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley
Nearly a quarter of Americans taking prescription medications say the high cost of refills has stopped them or a family member from filling a prescription, or has led them to cut pills in half or skip doses altogether. And prices keep increasing: From January to July of 2018, there were price increases on 4,412 drugs. The price decreased on just 46 medicines. That means for every one decrease in price, 96 others became more expensive. This price-gouging is occurring even as people in other major developed countries are paying a fraction of the cost for the same prescriptions. Perhaps the most outrageous part of this disparity is that many of these prescriptions were developed or improved with research that was funded by our American tax dollars! The only people in this country who think drug prices aren’t way too high are the ones getting rich from drug company profits.
Oregonians who re-elected Brown to a second term in November might have hoped that the term-limited governor, unshackled from concerns about running again, would make bold proposals to fix PERS, that she would expend political capital and work with the Democratic super-majority in the Legislature to implement long-term solutions, that she would lead with courage and collaboration. On the campaign trail this year, PERS came up often, at least when Brown wasn’t distracting voters with divisive social issues and Donald Trump. Both Brown and her Republican opponent acknowledged the importance and difficulty of reform. With the election behind her, however, Brown proposed a budget that barely touches on PERS.
Oregon legislators are considering proposals to dramatically limit the types of crimes in which the death penalty can be applied — a roundabout way to essentially gut capital punishment in the state. The proposals under consideration are clever ways to get around the fact that it would take a vote of the public to outlaw the death penalty in Oregon. But it’s been decades since Oregonians voted on whether to retain capital punishment, and it’s possible (perhaps even likely) that public sentiment has changed on the topic since then. Why not just refer the question to voters instead of finding ways to work around the will of the electorate?
The Bulletin Editorial Board
Oregon, like much of the rest of the nation, has an opioid problem, and while illegal use of the addictive drugs has dropped here in recent years, the state could be doing much more to encourage that trend. That was one takeaway from a Secretary of State’s audit of Oregon’s prescription drug monitoring program. It tracks the dispensing of prescription opioids and other concerning drugs in the state. Another was this: Unless lawmakers amend legislation governing the program, the state’s efforts to curb opioid abuse won’t be as effective as they should be.
Imagine a world in which you were not allowed to tell the truth, make art, or use descriptive words for a legal product that can save lives. By law. Couldn’t happen here—not in Oregon, right? But it has. That’s effectively what the state of Oregon is doing to small business owners like me. I am the owner of a 21-and-over vape shop in Portland, and most of my customers are people just like me: people who have used e-cigarettes to kick a cigarette habit. E-cigarettes are currently the most popular and effective method of quitting smoking. Yet the state of Oregon won’t let me share truthful information about my products with the customers who come into my store. Under Oregon Health Authority rules, I cannot display any products with labels that are “likely to appeal to minors.” Fruit flavors are a good example: If a label has, say, the drawing of a peach or even the word “peach” on it, we will have to cover it up. Oregon has some of the strongest individual and commercial free-speech protections in the country, but its anti-speech regulations on vaping have kept us from selling an e-cigarette liquid that had an octopus on the label. Last week, I filed a lawsuit to challenge these regulations for what they are: an attempt to steal my right to communicate what my products are to my customers. Oregon’s insistence that I must self-censor my products violates my free-speech rights. My ability to communicate with my customers shouldn’t be taken away.