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Posts published in April 2015

Letting us in on the costs

ridenbaugh Northwest

We don't often reprint issue letters - the type that encourage people to sign a petition on some issue, for example. But this one advocates for an idea on health care we've been supporting for years, and now it might become actual state law. The mail comes from the public interest organization OSPIRG.

We all know health care still costs too much. But how much does it cost? If you’ve ever asked, you know: They won’t tell you.

Why? Because, unlike every other business in America, hospitals get to keep their prices a secret. As a result, they get away with charging outrageous prices and surprising fees, often for routine procedures.

A bill to make Oregon’s hospitals post their actual prices online is scheduled for its first vote next Monday. Hospital and insurance industry lobbyists are working to defeat the proposal. Will you stand with us?

Tell your state lawmakers: Make hospitals post their prices.

Not too long ago, my friend’s wife cut her finger deeply and went to the emergency room. The doctor gave her a tetanus shot and a few dabs of a skin adhesive called Indermil. A few weeks later, they got a bill for $2,300. They charged her $1000 for the skin glue alone, even though it can be purchased online for $40 a tube.

What other business gets away with that?

When pressed on why they can’t just post their actual prices, hospitals will tell us it is too difficult and too complicated.

But it isn’t, really. They already know their prices – they just don’t want to make them public. In fact, hospitals and insurance companies actually have written agreements to keep the prices they negotiate a secret.

This is absurd and we should not tolerate it a moment longer. Inflated prices due to lack of competition and excessive price variation have led to $105 billion in waste in health care spending each year.

It is time to get the health care industry to do what every other business in America does.

In the Briefings


A look at the container yard at the Port of Lewiston. Last week, reacting to the loss of a service contractor at the port of Portland which in turn led to loss of service at Lewiston, the Idaho port suspended most container service and announced layoffs. See the economy/business section in this issue. (Photo /Port of Lewiston)


For most of Friday, the Idaho Legislature seemed to be just a little too far behind the curve to adjourn for the year – it seemed likely to return for at least a day or two this week. But then, around midnight, it wrapped up. The late-night fallout will be examined and re-examined this week.

The Oregon Legislature has been moving ahead in overdrive – passing a school budget weeks ahead of the normal schedule. Might it adjourn in the early part of summer?

In Washington, it’s time now for the clash of the budgets – the Republican Senate and the Democratic House. Recognizing the reality of the budget-passing imperative and the option of a gubernatorial veto, some compromises are likely. But expect a lot of position-taking between here and there.

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Questions over how many Idaho wolves there are (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune)
Defendants with mental health issues have spiked (Lewiston Tribune)
Idaho Legislature adjourns for year (Moscow News)
Preparations back on for canyon jump (TF Times News)

Neighbors dislike rehab center idea at Ashland (Medford Tribune)
Senators help dedicate Oregon Cave monument (Medford Tribune)
Gas prices will be lower this summer (Portland Oregonian)
Several perimenter breaches noted at PDX (Portland Oregonian)
Subdivision development fee possible at Salem (Salem Statesman Journal)

Local incentives for pot sales may be coming (Bellingham Herald)
Housing market becomes much hotter (Bremerton Sun)
Boeing has plane supply issues at Everett (Everett Herald)
Lead-stren gun ranges still get federal contracts (Seattle Times)
Interstate widening resumes at Snoqualmie (Spokane Spokesman)
Food trucks setting down at Coeur d'Alene (Spokane Spokesman)
Kindergartens pressed for space (Vancouver Columbian)
Yakima admins wary of cost of smaller classes (Yakima Herald Republic)

The highway difference

idaho RANDY

Road trips, and the amount of time they take, may mark the single area of great difference between the Oregon east of the Cascades and the Oregon to the west.

West of the Cascades, there’s little interest in raising speed limits, and for good reason. Traffic is heavier, especially in the metro areas but to a sometimes surprising degree away from them as well. Roads have lots of points of entry and exit. Many roads are fairly narrow and twisty. Even Highway 101, the great coastal highway located well away from the metro areas, is often packed with traffic, and even where it’s not it is hilly, winds around – little of it seems to run in a straight line – and has lots of roads branching out, since it is only major route through the region. Driving times often are determined less by the number of miles involved, than by the number of vehicles and turns.

Eastern Oregon is like a whole different road system. Some of it runs through mountains, true, but even most of those roads are far less twisty than across the Cascades. Traffic is relatively light (even, in relative terms, on I-84 east of The Dalles). Most highways are remarkably straight, and most are wide, well built-out roads, and many of them have limited access.
Driving east of the Cascades is not like driving to the west.

A couple of pieces of legislation, offered by lawmakers from eastern Oregon (Ontario and Cove), show some awareness of that. The states all around Oregon have higher speed limits on their freeways, and on many rural highways as well. While you can make a solid case for lower limits in the Willamette Valley and environs, it’s a different story in the long runs between, say, John Day and Lakeview, or Arlington and Pendleton. There, the greater danger in keeping things slow would seem to be road weariness from drives extending too many hours.

The Oregon legislature has a pretty good track record of taking road trips in bringing issues to far reaches of the state. Before dismissing these two new bills, as so many others have been over the years, western lawmakers might do well to roll a few miles on those long-long stretches.

And reconsider.

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

New options for Boise downtown (Boise Statesman)
A look back at the legislative session (Boise Statesman, IF Post Register, TF Times News, Lewiston Tribune, Pocatello Journal)
Woodgrain Millwork expands in Nampa (Nampa Press Tribune)
Nampa police not getting requested pay raises (Nampa Press Tribune)
City uncertain about AG probe of finances (Pocatello Journal)

Oregon pot industry prepares to open (Eugene Register Guard)
Aerial herbicide rules still debated at Salem (Eugene Register Guard)
Reviewing a study on growth at Klamath County (KF Herald & News)
VA staffing lacks persist at Oregon facility (Medford Tribune)
What to do about pot edibles? (Portland Oregonian)
Democrats dominating legislative session (Portland Oregonian)

State budget realigns park spending (Bremerton Sun)
Gangs at Everett drawing in younger children (Everett Herald)
Oregon debates over sentencing law changes (Longview News)
Lead in guns threatening health of cops (Seattle Times)
UW looking into color blindness cure (Seattle Times)
Spokane schools will oust unvaccinated students (Spokane Spokesman)
many government text messages disappear (Tacoma News Tribune)

The claimants of Chief Joseph

idaho RANDY

When I started to cover the Idaho Legislature decades ago, the Idaho Statesman had a picture poster on its Statehouse office wall that dominated above everything else there. It was a picture of Chief Joseph, of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce. It was there in a place of pride for decades, and no one ever seemed to question that it was rightly there.

A lot of Idahoans, including many who take the history of Idaho seriously, claim the legacy of Chief Joseph. It’s not hard to understand, considering the man’s fame, his vigorous history of leadership, eloquence and many other admirable qualities.

This comes up because Oregon has been considering replacing its two statues of notable historical figures (John McLoughlin and Jason Lee) now in place at the U.S. Capitol at the National Statuary Hall. (Idaho’s choices, George Shoup and William E. Borah, might also merit reconsideration.) A study commission considered alternative choices, and it picked Chief Joseph along with suffragette Abigail Scott Duniway. The legislature now is deciding whether to give its approval.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter followed up last week, writing to Oregon legislators that “Chief Joseph's story and legacy in the Northwest is indeed historically notable. But a close examination of history may indicate a more significant historical tie to Idaho than any other state in our region.”

Chief Joseph was a northwesterner, but pinning him down to any one state may be too difficult.

He had Oregon roots, born and raised and lived as a young man in what is now the Wallowa country of northeastern Oregon, around the Oregon city of Joseph, which was named for him. While “treaty” Nez Perce concentrated in north-central Idaho by the early 1860s, Joseph generally stayed with the “non-treaty” tribal members in the Wallowas for more than another decade. To the end of his days he considered that Oregon country his home, and for decades of forced residence in Idaho and elsewhere, he never quit trying to return.

But his Idaho connection was significant too. Joseph probably spent substantial time over the years in the Idaho side of the Nez Perce reservation, though he was based in Idaho relatively briefly. It was then, however, when he emerged as a leader of the Nez Perce who made their spectacular escape to Canada, pursued and periodically embattled by the U.S. Army. That event crossed hundreds of miles in Idaho, then into Wyoming and Montana, where the army finally cornered them and forced them to surrender. Montana was where Joseph was said to have delivered (though in fact he probably never did) his much-quoted message that, “I will fight no more forever.” (more…)

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Legislature prepares to adjourn (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News, Lewiston Tribune)
Boise councilman proposees obesity rule change (Boise Statesman)
Live racing will continue at Les Bois (Boise Statesman)
BYU-I president departs (IF Post Register)
Madison school district decides to administer ISAT (IF Post Register)
Washington sees $10m shortfall for wildlife (Lewiston Tribune)
Anti-bully law effective on July 1 (Moscow News)
Washington state has Palouse water concerns (Moscow News)
Moscow bus system might lose federal money (Moscow News)
Debate continues on NNU's Oord layoff (Nampa Press Tribune)
JFAC's Cameron says he might not run again (TF Times News)

School board releases emails on superintendent (Eugene Register Guard)
Arlie developer faces bankruptcy issues (Eugene Register Guard)
Lower Klamath wetland running out of water (KF Herald & News)
Property owner gets $200k in dog barking case (Medford Tribune)
Magazine case defendants still soliciting? (Medford Tribune)
Trap failure kills about 400 steelhead (Medford Tribune)
Local lawmaker proposes raising speed limits (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Umatilla sets medical pot locations (Pendleton E Oregonian)
New degree-driven university funding plan (Portland Oregonian)
New vaccine bill generates more debate (Portland Oregonian)
Brown signs $7b schools budget (Salem Statesman Journal)

Cantwell moving on oil train bills (Bellingham Herald)
State House passes new medical pot bill (Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Bellingham Herald, Olympian, Longview News)
Kitsap crisis center to open July 2016 (Bremerton Sun)
Scientists find 'warm blob' in north Pacific (Seattle Times)
Budgeting for drought relief draws much debate (Yakima Herald Republic)

Going Independent

rainey BARRETT


‘Tis silly season once again. Well, we used to call it that. Now, given the burgeoning crop of intellectually vacant, politically unknowing and governmentally deficient rabbits wanting to be Commander-In-Chief - without knowing what the job entails - it probably should be renamed “Threat To The Republic” season.

The first two “out-there-hares” to escape the hutch probably won’t finish near the top about 15 months from now when Republicans convene. One wants to bomb Iran back to parking lot status while denying global warming; the other is a serial plagiarizer who wants to eliminate half the federal government and deny foreign aid to any country for any reason.

A lady “hare” about to take the plunge blames liberals for California’s massive water problems. And global warming. Her various “positions” make it abundantly clear why - while seeking to promote women to upper management several years ago - a major company tossed her out of that upper level for continued incompetence. A fellow traveler - a former brain surgeon, no less - believes prison makes you gay - sees no difference between gay Americans and people practicing bestiality and being a pedophile - believes “the Affordable Care Act is the worst social idea in this country since slavery.”

Others of equally detached “thought” are whizzing around looking for a pet billionaire or two to pick up the tab for their assuredly abortive presidential candidacies. It’s an uncommonly unqualified field of some 18 or so seeking nothing more than to raise their profiles for subsequent speech, book and video sales post 2016, ala Newt and Santorum.

Looking to reality beyond these characters, Pew Research Center has been sampling again. Overall result is that more than 39% of us are moving away from the two parties and into “Independent” status. Highest level in more than 79 years of research. Asked which party they might “tilt” to a bit, a third said “Democrat” and about 20% said Republican.”

But here’s the meaty part. In the last year, negative impressions of government have displaced the economy atop Gallup’s continuing monthly polling of what we believe the most important national problem to be. For the first time in it’s lengthy history, Gallup found positive feelings for the two major parties has dropped below 40%. “Independent” continues to rise.

The single most important factor feeding the growing voter independency is young people. Under age 34, 48% consider themselves independents. At the same time, trend lines for older, white Americans have flattened. Bad news for the GOP. Other survey data shows more young folks are moving away from Republican leanings. Democrats get a bit of a bump but “Independent” twice as much. Republicans flat.

When pushed by Gallup questioners to pick one of the two established parties, those under age 34 go Democrat 51% - Republican 35%.

More bad GOP news. Those parts of the population growing most quickly - Hispanics, Asian-Americans, the non-religious and those with college degrees - vote far more Democrat than others. For Republicans, the core group of white, silent generation and white evangelical Protestants is in numerical decline.

While we have a couple of independent U.S. Senators, most most states don’t recognize Independent as a legitimate group - able to field candidates and register voters. So the “tilt” factor is still important for the two parties we do have. But that’s changing. Oregon has recognized Independent with party status. Other states are moving in that direction. It may take a decade or two but it looks like momentum is there for a national third party in all respects. (more…)

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Still struggling with gas tax at legislature (Boise Statesman, IF Post Register, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
Little progress in VA wait times (Boise Statesman, IF Post Register)
Community outcry airses over NNU prof's dismissal (Nampa Press Tribune)
Contractor picked for Canyon jail expansion (Nampa Press Tribune)

New Hilton groundbreaking set for June (Eugene Register Guard)
Property owners battle Lane Transit on purchase (Eugene Register Guard)
State will decide on tuition hike at OIT (KF Herald & News)
Medford wants accounting from Travel Medford (Medford Tribune)
Shortfall found at state Fish & Wildlife (Medford Tribune)
Bill would make district vaccine rates public (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Hayes role in housing plan disputed (Portland Oregonian)
Snowpack in state remains light (Portland Oregonian)
Chief Joseph's Oregon role discussed (Salem Statesman Journal)

Large grant allows Puget Sound acidification study (Bremerton Sun)
Legislative transportation negotiations continue (Bremerton Sun)
Crime rate in Longview fell last year (Longview News)
Legislators split over competing budget plans (Seattle Times)
Many more town houses crop up in Seattle (Seattle Times)
House approves funds for new Columbia bridge (Vancouver Columbian)
Legislators consider more mental health beds (Vancouver Columbian)