Editorial: Ballot measures present mixed bag for Oregon voters

Editor’s note: Today we are taking a look at six of the seven statewide measures that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

We addressed the most prominent of the seven, Measure 97, which would raise corporate taxes on large businesses in the state, in our Oct. 5 edition.

In the next few weeks we will analyze the governor’s race and other state contests that certainly deserve the serious attention of voters, as well as the presidential election – which we likely all agree is an unusual one this year. We will then offer thoughts on our local City Council election, which has eight candidates vying for four positions.

The voter registration deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 18. Mailing of ballots to local voters begins Oct. 19. Ballots must be returned by Nov. 8.

The six initiatives here, plus Measure 97, are ones left standing from a total of at least 82 that were filed for potential spots on the 2016 ballot, according to the website Ballotpedia. The path to the ballot is complex and challenging, which may be a relief in that many proposals do not actually make it.

Frankly, compared to Measure 97, these six are not likely to create sweeping waves of change, though Measure 98 does carry a financial impact. But they do address issues, some constitutional, that are deemed worthy of public consideration and will make a difference for at least some of the population.

Measure 94, the “Oregon Elimination of Mandatory Judicial Retirement Age Amendment,” would repeal the current constitutional mandatory judicial retirement age of 75.

This initiative was proposed after St. Helens attorney Agnes Petersen challenged the state’s mandatory retirement age because the secretary of state did not allow her to run for judge because she was over 75. A section of the current law states, “a judge of any court shall retire from judicial office at the end of the calendar year in which he attains the age of 75 years.”

OK. With the increased life expectancy we’re experiencing these days in our society, this is a rule that should be changed. We’re short-changing ourselves by eliminating the opportunity for seasoned, veteran attorneys to share the wisdom and experience they’ve gained over decades of service. Judges should be able to serve as long as they are able and want to.

In many other cultures, the aged are revered for their wisdom, hard-earned over many years. That may not always be the case in the U.S., where the prevailing philosophy tends to be instant gratification. Maybe it should be. In court, would you rather stand before a judge who’s seen much of life or some young buck who thinks he (or she) knows everything because they have a law degree?

There may be wrinkles, but Measure 94 makes a lot of sense.

We recommend a “yes” vote.

Measure 95, the “Oregon Public University Diversification of Investments Amendment,” would amend the Constitution to allow public state universities to invest in equities.

Oregon’s Legislature has already passed a bill, in 2013, that allows for public universities to invest monies that are donated or otherwise received from such sources as technology, dividends and proceeds from existing stock that has been donated to the schools, etc.

There are some finer points to this measure that we won’t go into here, but the point is pretty simple. We’re constantly hearing that Oregon’s public institutions of higher education are underfunded. The rational option is to remove constitutional restraints that might prohibit them from making such investments.

We recommend a “yes” vote on Measure 95.

Measure 96, the “Oregon Portion of Lottery Proceeds for Support of Veterans Amendment,” would create a constitutional requirement to devote 1.5 percent of state lottery net proceeds toward veterans’ services.

We question the ethics and wisdom of funding schools with lottery proceeds, despite the practice’s almost universal acceptance. Essentially, the institution responsible for encouraging people to live in an orderly manner is promoting gambling by people who often can least afford it.

That moral argument aside, we don’t think this measure, which would contribute some $9-plus million annually to veterans services, is the way to fund such services. We also question the wisdom of writing it into the Constitution. Veterans services certainly deserve funding, but not with money from the Lottery.

We recommend a “no” vote on Measure 96.

Measure 98, the “Oregon State Funding for Dropout Prevention and College Readiness Initiative,” would require that the state fund dropout prevention and career and college readiness programs in Oregon high schools.

Unlike most of the other measures listed here, this one would cost the state money, but it might be well-spent.

The preamble to the measure states that “Oregon has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the nation” and it does. Also stated in the preamble, and also true, is that even graduates are often poorly prepared for college or other post-high school education, which is borne out in the number of remedial courses colleges are forced to offer to help students get up to speed in the real world.

The measure proposes that the Legislature establish a fund totaling “not less than $800 per high school student per school year” for this purpose. The money would be used to establish and expand career-technical education programs “that are relevant to the job market in the community or region the school district serves.”

Also required would be establishment and expansion of “college-level educational opportunities” for high school students – college-level classes and opportunities to gain college credit while in high school, and training of school personnel to provide those opportunities.

The measure also calls for a broad range of “strategies” to keep track of attendance, reduce absenteeism and prevent dropouts – starting with eighth-graders. It states that funding provided following its passage cannot be used for existing programs – it has to go to new efforts.

We like a lot of the ideas here. We like that school districts would be encouraged to work together to extend the reach of this measure, should it pass. This is practical stuff and it resonates here in Sweet Home, where many of the problems addressed are far too evident.

Whether public schools, as a whole in Oregon, can make this work is a question. Another is where the money’s going to come from. The measure calls for it to come from the state’s General Fund, but the Legislature is going to have to figure out how to make that work.

The focus of this measure is correct: Ensure that schools are providing opportunities Oregon students need to succeed. Getting it to work might be more tricky, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

We recommend a “yes” vote on Measure 98.

Measure 99, the “Outdoor School Lottery Fund Initiative,” would create a $22 million “Outdoor School Education Fund,” sourced from state lottery proceeds, to provide a week-long Outdoor School, or equivalent, to all fifth- or sixth-grade students in the state.

Sweet Home residents know Outdoor School, which takes place yearly at Camp Tadmor. Currently, Oregon State University provides funding for Outdoor Schools around the state, based on funding.

This measure would require Lottery funds distributed for economic development to be directed toward a separate “Outdoor School Education Fund,” administered by OSU.

While we think Outdoor School experiences are terrific for youngsters, we’re not convinced that hijacking $22 million from state economic development and existing education funding is the best way to make this experience available to all older grade-schoolers in the state, rich or poor.

We recommend a “no” vote on Measure 99.

Measure 100, the “Wildlife Trafficking Prevention Act,” would prohibit the sale of products from and parts of 12 species of endangered animals.

Sale of wildlife parts/products for non-native species, except shark fins, is permitted under current Oregon law.

This measure would prohibit and impose civil penalties on the purchase, sale, or possession with intent to sell of parts or products from cheetahs, elephants, jaguars, leopards, lions, pangolins, rays, rhinoceroses, sea turtles, sharks and whale.

It creates certain exceptions – for certain antiques, musical instruments, noncommercial transfers through estates and gifts, possession by tribal members, and a few more. We don’t see a threat to legitimate hunters.

Given the abuses overseas in the trade of wild animal parts, and international efforts aimed at stopping them, the least Oregon can do is draw the line here. The logical protections of the innocent appear to be in place here.

We recommend a “yes” vote on Measure 100.