Levies, measures on ballot deal with law enforcement, drugs, more

Sweet Home voters will see four state initiatives and three local levy renewal requests on their ballots in the upcoming election. Here is a description and analysis of each.

Local Levies

Sweet Home Police Five-Year Operating Levy Renewal

The renewal of this levy would entirely fund the city’s police services through June 2026. The City Council decided earlier this year to maintain the current rate of $7.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a rate that was approved by city voters in 2015.

The levy would generate, at the current $7.85 rate, roughly $3.05 million in 2021, $3.1 million in 2022, $3.15 million in 2023, $3.2 million in 2024 and $3.52 million in 2025, for an estimated total of $16,017,681.40 over five years.

Sweet Home Library Five-Year Operating Levy Renewal

The renewal of this levy would entirely fund the city’s library services through June 2026. The City Council decided earlier this year to maintain the current rate of $1.17 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a rate that was approved by city voters in 2015.

The levy would generate, at the current $1.17 rate, an estimated $443,977.50 in 2021, $461,949.10 in 2022, $468,707.47 in 2023, $477,515.60 in 2024 and $530,670.62 in 2025, totaling $2,383,820.29 over five years.

Linn County Four-Year Law Enforcement Local Option Tax Levy

The renewal of the Linn County Law Enforcement would tax county landowners $3.08 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, which would fund operations of the Sheriff’s Office (patrol, investigations, jail services) (76%), criminal prosecution (10%), and juvenile offender supervision and detention by the Juvenile Department (14%) through June 2026.

The current levy, approved by voters in 2018, would typically extend through June 30, 2022, but the Linn County Board of Commissioners decided to put the issue to local voters early in response to nationwide efforts to defund law enforcement agencies.

If approved, it would run through June 30, 2026. The levy would generate roughly $35.6 million in 2022, $36.4 million in 2023, $37.4 million in 2024 and $38.5 million in 2025 for an estimated total of $147,992,336 over the four years that would be added to the remaining two years of the current approved levy.

About 54 percent of the current $32 million budget comes from levy funding, Sheriff Jim Yon said.

Yon said he asked the commissioners to accelerate the timing of the levy vote because, when he took over as Sheriff in May of 2018, he was faced with a situation in which, if the levy election had failed that year, he would have had one month to figure out how to fund the department and would likely have had to lay off some 120 people.

It this levy were to fail, he said, the Sheriff’s Office would be crippled, unable to provide 24-hour law enforcement and would be able to provide only about half a dozen patrol deputies, compared to over 50 now, one or two investigators and would lack staff staff to manage jail facilities.

Putting the levy on the ballot now provides time to adjust if the levy were not passed, he said.

Measure 107

Measure 107 would amend the Oregon Constitution to allow the Oregon legislature, local governments, and the voters to pass laws or initiatives that limit campaign contributions and spending, though it would not prevent effective advocacy.

The measure would allow laws that require disclosure of political campaign and election contributions and expenditures. It would permit the passage of laws requiring political campaign and election advertisements to identify who paid for them.

This measure raises some thorny issues. Oregon is one of only five states with no limits on political campaign donations and is tops in the nation in per-capita corporate political donations.

Supporters of the measure, who basically range over the political spectrum, say voters have the right to know who donors are and what they’re spending to support candidates or issues. They say Oregon’s free-wheeling campaign system makes campaigns susceptible to millions of dollars in spending by special interests to support candidates and sway voters. They say passing this measure puts power in the hands of voters and supports true democracy.

Opponents of of the measure note that a similar initiative was rejected by Oregon voters in 2006 and voice concerns about loss of privacy rights, free speech rights and censorship.

Certainly, big money thrown into campaigns aimed at unthinking voters who don’t bother to inform themselves, can pay off in wins for candidates.

Measure 108

If you’ve seen any TV commercials for any Oregon measures, they likely included this one.

Measure 108 would increase cigarette and cigar taxes and establish a tax on e-cigarettes and nicotine vaping devices to fund health programs.

Specifically, if the measure passes, it would increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack (currently $1.33 per pack of 20), up the 50-cent-per-cigar cap on cigar taxes to $1 per cigar and establish a new tax on nicotine inhalant delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes and vaping products. Smaller “cigarillo” cigars would be taxed like cigarettes.

Nicotine inhalant delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes and vaping products, which currently are not taxed, would be taxed at 65 percent of the wholesale price, though the tax would not be applied to approved tobacco cessation products or marijuana inhalant delivery systems.

Revenue from increased and new taxes will be used to fund health care coverage for low-income families, including mental health services, and to fund public health programs, including prevention and cessation programs, addressing tobacco- and nicotine-related diseases.

Support for this measure is wide-ranging, including many health agencies and professionals, and largely focuses on vaping rates among Oregon’s youth, “lies” and “dirty money” promulgated by Big Tobacco and the “fundamental right” citizens have to healthcare.

It’s notable that the 23 pages in the Linn County Voters’ Pamphlet devoted to this measure contain 49 separate arguments in support and two in opposition, from the Taxpayer’s Association of Oregon and the Cascade Policy Institute conservative think tank.

They argue that the tobacco tax is “regressive” and targets “vulnerable” Oregonians and warn that it will open Oregon to black market traffic in these products. The Taxpayer’s Association notes that this is would be the 20th tax levied on Oregonians (particularly those in the Portland metropolis) since 2017.

Frankly, there are certainly dangers in vaping and, much more so, smoking. But the the notion that taxing vaping products or, worse, banning them entirely will significantly stop teens from engaging in this practice is, frankly, foolish.

Have bans on marijuana and underage smoking ever stopped teens from those practices? Which is a bigger issue: vaping products that are suspected to have caused medical issues in a small number of victims, or the accumulation of tar in children’s lungs?

Although this isn’t an outright ban on vaping products that have helped many tobacco smokers ditch a much more dangerous habit, it’s just one more step toward total government control of our health, and we’ve all seen in the last six months how that can go.

Approval of Measure 108 would certainly provide funding for the Oregon Health Authority, but this measure is not the easy answer to complicated problems that it might appear to be.

Measure 109

Basically, this initiative would de-criminalize use of psychoactive mushrooms, allowing the manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin at supervised, licensed facilities following a two-year development period.

Currently, federal and state laws prohibit the manufacture, delivery, and possession of psilocybin (contained in psychoactive mushrooms). This initiative would amend state law to require the Oregon Health Authority to establish an Oregon Psilocybin Services Program to allow licensed/regulated production, processing, delivery, possession of psilocybin exclusively for administration of “psilocybin services” by licensed “facilitators” to “qualified clients.”

Measure 109 would provide funding for program administration and a governor-appointed advisory board, with paid members. It imposes packaging, labeling, and dosage requirements and would establish a sales tax for retail psilocybin. The measure would pre-empt local laws inconsistent with program except “reasonable regulations” and would exempt licensed/regulated activities from criminal penalties. The actual text of the law occupies 22 pages of fine print in the state’s Voters’ Guide, so it can’t be summarized much more briefly.

Supporters of this initiative include law enforcement professionals, doctors and others who argue that the benefits of psilocybin therapy for mental illness and other ills far outweigh any downside.

Patrick Sieng, executive director of the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, who writes a statement of opposition in the state’s Voters’ Guide, warns that the “safety and efficacy” of the treatment is not yet established and needs more trials. He also warns that legalizing it will make it more accessible to minors.

Measure 110

This initiative reclassifies personal non-commercial possession of certain drugs under specified amounts from misdemeanor or felony (depending on person’s criminal history) to a Class E violation subject to either a $100 fine or a completed health assessment.

It also would provide statewide addiction/recovery services, partially funded by marijuana taxes, and would reclassify possession/penalties for specified drugs. Specifically, it would mandate the establishment and funding of “addiction recovery centers” within existing coordinated care organization service area by Oct. 1, 2021. The centers would provide the above-mentioned health assessments.

The addiction/recovery centers would provide drug users with triage, health assessments, treatment, recovery services.

Funding for the centers would come from all marijuana tax revenue collected by the state above $11,250,000 quarterly, legislative appropriations, and any savings from reductions in arrests, incarceration, supervision resulting from the measure. Thus, this measure would reduce marijuana tax revenue for other uses.

The Oregon Health Authority would establish a council to distribute funds/ oversee implementation of centers, audited biennially by the Secretary of State.

This is a complicated and highly controversial issue.

On one hand, supporters point out that Measure 110 doesn’t legalize drugs but opens the door for users to get help. They argue that decriminalizing petty drug use would ease burdens on law enforcement swamped by drug arrests and addiction is a health, not a legal problem, that criminalization of drug addiction is “cruel,” that repeated arrests send petty offenders into a negative spiral from which many do not recover, that wait lists for drug treatment are long, and the costs to the state’s residents in general is staggering.

Opponents argue, with equal fervor, that decriminalization of drug use is not the answer and warn that drug use will increase, especially among youths because Measure 110 will lower the perception of harm.