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Posts published in “Day: August 8, 2015”

Of another subject


Nine years ago, the Oregon Supreme Court threw out a 1971 law aiming at limiting advertising along highways that promoted any product not available on the premises. The idea was to allow, for example, a farmer to advertise at roadside his crops for sale, but disallow advertising for a motel or store located far away. The intent of the law was to limit the number of billboards without damaging local businesses.

The court killed the law because, it said, “The state may not enact restrictions that focus on the content of the speech, and this restriction does just that.”

That’s a central thread also running through the U.S. District Court decision last week throwing out the Idaho “ag-gag” law, which seeks to ban video recording of treatment of animals; the new offense was called “interference with agricultural production.” The recorders were compared to “terrorists” and “marauding invaders.” Critics said that the law made the penalty in Idaho higher for exposing evidence of animal abuse than for actually abusing animals.

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill looked at the law more broadly. He started by saying it “seeks to limit and punish those who speak out on topics relating to the agricultural industry, striking at the heart of important First Amendment values.” The law, he suggests, might have barred Upton Sinclair from researching and writing his great novel about the meat-packing industry, The Jungle.

Winmill moved on to this: “A person, such as an employee, would not violate §18-7042 if he or she stood in an agricultural production facility and surreptitiously filmed the agricultural facility owner having a private conversation with his spouse. This same employee, however, could be prosecuted under §18-7042, and face up to a year in jail, and be liable for reputational harm to the owner, if the employee, without the owner’s consent, filmed his fellow workers repeatedly beating, kicking, and jumping on cows, or using a moving tractor to drag a cow on the floor by a chain attached to her neck. In other words, ... law enforcement authorities would need to view suspect video or audiotape to determine whether a particular recording violates the statute. The recording prohibition is therefore a classic example of a content-based restriction.”

There is more: “The recording prohibition gives agricultural facility owners veto power, allowing owners to decide what can and cannot be recorded, effectively turning them into state-backed censors able to silence unfavorable speech about their facilities.”

What the “ag-gag” law seeks to do, at base, is stifle a participant's side of an argument – to say that one side cannot be expressed, but another can. Winmill: “The central problem with § 18-7042 is that it distinguishes between different types of speech, or conduct facilitating speech, based on content. As already discussed in the context of the First Amendment claim, an employee can make an unauthorized recording of an agricultural facility owner’s children visiting the facility without running afoul of § 18-7042, but the same employee could not make an unauthorized recording of workers abusing animals. Likewise, an undercover journalist who misrepresents his identity to secure a job at an agricultural production facility so he can publish a laudatory piece about the facility would not violate the statute. But an undercover journalist who misrepresents his identity to secure a job at the same facility seeking to expose illegal, inhumane, or unsafe behavior would violate the statute. The operative distinction is the message the employee or undercover journalist wishes to convey.”

Where else in human history have we seen governments allowing legal free access for one message, while banning its counterpoint? Legislators might do well to consider that when they return to session to take up this issue again.

A dream deferred?

From a report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a stirring call to end racial segregation, was also a plea for economic justice. Dr. King headlined the speakers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event that sought to bring attention to the lack of economic opportunity faced by millions of Americans, particularly people of color.

Sadly, a little more than a half century after Dr. King’s speech, Oregonians of color generally are still worse off economically than whites by many measures.

In 2013, 16.7 percent of Oregonians lived in poverty. As bad as the poverty rate is for Oregon as a whole, it was worse for Oregonians of color.

In 2013, 15.5 percent of non-Hispanic white Oregonians lived in poverty. By contrast, 27.5 percent of Latinos, 30.6 percent of African-Americans, 31.2 percent of Native Americans, and 31.4 percent of Pacific Islanders lived in poverty. The poverty rate for Asians – 17.6 percent – was not significantly different from the white rate.

Aside from Asians, Oregonians of color were about twice as likely to live in poverty than whites in 2013.

In 2013, the typical (median) Oregon household earned $50,251. The income of the typical household of color, with the exception of Asians, was significantly less than that of the typical white household.

The income of the typical white household was $51,972 in 2013. This exceeded the incomes of the typical Latino, Pacific Islander, African-American and Native American households by about $13,000 or more. To put that in perspective, $13,000 is more than enough to cover a year’s worth of tuition, fees, books and supplies at Oregon State University. Only Asians had a median income higher than whites.

Work is hardest to find for black Oregonians. In 2014, the unemployment rate for black Oregonians was 13.6 percent, twice the white rate of 6.8 percent.

The unemployment rates for Latinos (9.6 percent) and Asians (4.4 percent) were not significantly different from the rate for whites.

Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data does not include rates for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Oregonians of color are less likely to own a home than their white counterparts. From 2011 to 2013, 62.9 percent of white Oregonians owned a home outright or through a mortgage. By contrast, 58.1 percent of Asians, 47.7 percent of Native Americans, 39.2 percent of Latinos, 33.1 percent of African-Americans, and 23.6 percent of Pacific Islanders owned a home.

Lawmakers can take steps to ensure all Oregonians, regardless of the color of their skin, have an opportunity to get ahead. Some of these include:

Raising the minimum wage. People of color make up a disproportionate share of the minimum wage workforce.[4] A full-time minimum wage worker does not earn enough to meet a family’s basic needs. Minimum wage workers need a substantial raise.

Making it harder for employers to steal wages. Too often employers commit wage theft by forcing workers to work off the clock, stealing tips or not paying their workers at all. Given that wage theft more commonly affects low-income workers,[5] it disproportionately harms Oregonians of color. Lawmakers need to put in place new rules that make it harder for dishonest employers to engage in wage theft and easier for workers to recover stolen wages.

Ensuring all children have health insurance coverage. Children need access to quality health care if they are to grow up healthy and succeed in school and life. In Oregon, about 17,600 children lack health insurance because of their immigration status. Lawmakers should enact the Cover All Kids legislation to ensure all children in Oregon have access to quality care.

Investing more in education. Oregon children sit in some of the nation’s most crowded public school classrooms. And about half of Oregon children arrive to kindergarten without having attended preschool, which helps prepare children to succeed academically.