ACLU has changed Oregon for the better – Statesman Journal


Oregon newspapers
9:04 p.m. PST January 6, 2015

As David Fidanque steps down as director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, he looks out at a far different Oregon than he saw when he took over in 1993. And while the ACLU is not directly responsible for all those changes, it’s had a hand in many of them.

Fidanque, 65, announced Dec. 30 that he will retire effective March 31.

He took over the nonprofit agency when Oregon was in the midst of a particularly ugly battle about gay rights. The year before, voters had rejected an anti-gay ballot measure by just fewer than 200,000 votes; the following year, in 1994, they refused to approve an anti-gay amendment to the state constitution. At the same time, the ACLU was fighting at least 28 other anti-gay ballot measures on both the state and local levels.

Today, those fights feel like distant history. Gay marriage is legal in Oregon as of May 19, thanks in part to an ACLU lawsuit. And, the state has a comprehensive anti-discrimination law on the books. While ACLU cannot take credit for the sea change in Oregonians’ views about their gay and lesbian neighbors, it clearly helped keep legalized discrimination against them at bay.

There are other fights ahead. Fidanque recently told the Portland Tribune’s Peter Wong that Oregon’s — and the nation’s — prison population remains far too high. In fact, the state’s prison population is more than twice as large as it was just 20 years ago, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. On the national level, the U.S., with just 5 percent of the world’s population, accounts for some 25 percent of the number of people behind bars.

That’s a problem, Fidanque believes, as is the growing lack of privacy from government snooping.

Fidanque came to the ACLU of Oregon in 1982, a former television reporter in Eugene and aide to two politicians. When he took over the organization it had four employees and a budget of less than $250,000. He leaves an agency that has seen its budget quadruple and its staff double. And, while the job of protecting civil liberties is far from complete, Oregon is in better shape than when he took over.

— The Bulletin, Bend, Jan. 3

Legislature must get up to speed on marijuana

One of the key challenges facing the 2015 Oregon Legislature when it gets down to work next month will be writing the rules to implement Measure 91, the initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Already, the Legislature has struggled with its first challenge: Naming the committee that will be charged with the heavy lifting. As one legislator told us, the panel originally was called the “Joint Committee on Marijuana,” until someone took a long look at the name. Then the suggestion was made just to call it the “Joint Committee,” which would have been somewhat accurate but still bears the whiff of a Cheech & Chong routine.

That idea eventually gave way to the final nomenclature of the panel: It will be the “Joint Committee on Measure 91 Implementation,” which still doesn’t get rid of the “joint” part, but seems suitably cloaked in bureaucratic phrasing to get the job done. (The committee, by the way, includes Albany Rep. Andy Olson among its members.)

Even though Measure 91 was remarkably detailed, the committee still has plenty of challenges ahead of it. Sen. Ginny Burdick, the Portland Democrat who is one of the two chairs of the committee, suggested in a meeting with The Oregonian editorial board that most voters weren’t familiar with the intricacies of the measure — but generally supported the idea of legalization.

The upshot, Burdick said, is that legislators have some room to maneuver, as long as they honor the overall will of voters.

That’s probably correct — even though it does leave plenty of room for mischief. For example, expect the panel to endure heavy lobbying from cities and counties looking to cash in by taxing the sale of marijuana, even though Measure 91 is reasonably clear that only the state can tax it. (The general concern here is that, the more you tax recreational pot, the more likely it is that black-market pot will be a cheaper alternative.)

The joint committee does have one big advantage: Legislators already have labored to create a structure that governs the distribution of medical marijuana. That process didn’t go perfectly, but the structure is up and running, and we can’t see any reason why legislators wouldn’t take a careful look at combining the recreational and medical markets. Why invent this particular wheel twice?

In fact, many of the medical marijuana dispensaries that already have jumped through the state’s regulatory hoops and opened their shops have said they’re considering expanding their businesses to include recreational marijuana.

That’s not to say it will all be smooth sailing for the panel — for one thing, consider the bad jokes its members will endure all session for serving on the “joint committee.” But taking a careful look at combining the marketplaces will give its members a head start at working through the myriad other details that need to be settled.

— Corvallis Gazette-Times, Jan. 5

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