The following editorial, about state procedures for issuing driver's licenses, appeared in the Medford Mail Tribune on Aug. 13:
Bill Greenstein's lawsuit alleging the state of Oregon wrongly issued a driver's license to the repeat drunk driver who killed his wife is now settled. What's not settled is whether Oregon is still issuing licenses without obtaining the driving records of out-of-state applicants, five years after the horrific crash that took Karen Greenstein's life.
Karen Greenstein was on her way home from a late shift as an emergency dispatcher when a man driving the wrong way on Interstate 5 slammed into the driver's side of her car at 3 a.m. March 27, 2014, near Phoenix. Richard Webster Scott Jr.'s blood alcohol level was two and a half to three times the legal limit in the hours after the crash. In 2016, a jury sentenced Scott to nearly 12 years in prison.
In his lawsuit, Bill Greenstein argued the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services office failed to check Scott's driving record in California. If it had done so, the suit argued, the DMV would have learned that Scott had five convictions for driving under the influence of intoxicants, and that his license was suspended and revoked.
In its response to the lawsuit, the state said its computer systems were not able to obtain full driving records for individuals applying for regular licenses, and California won't release that information without a legal document such as a subpoena. Bill Greenstein argued that's not true, and furthermore, Oregon law bars the DMV from issuing a license to anyone with a suspended or revoked license.
DMV spokesman David House said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but he confirmed that department policy is not to issue a license until the applicant resolves any suspension or revocation in another state. House also said the multistate system the DMV uses is less extensive than the system used for commercial driver's licenses, but it does list drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked.
Without an official comment from the DMV — which is typical when a lawsuit is involved — it's impossible to say with certainty whether the state knew Scott was ineligible for a license and issued one anyway. But the state did settle the case for $500,000 — the maximum damages allowed by law. Draw your own conclusions.
What is certain is that no one with five DUII convictions should be issued a license to drive in this state or any other.
The state's assertion in the lawsuit that Scott would have driven anyway was a lame excuse. That makes about as much sense as saying perpetrators of mass shootings will get guns one way or another, so there is no point in expanding background checks.
If the DMV has not taken steps to improve its system of checking out-of-state driving records in the five years since Karen Greenstein's tragic death, there can be no excuse.
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A better way to grow hemp
The following editorial, about Oregon hemp growing, appeared Aug. 1 in the Ashland Daily Tidings:
Leave it to enterprising southern Oregon growers to look for a better way to mulch their hemp fields.
Concerned about the environmental effects of using plastic sheeting as a weed and moisture barrier, a local grower is blowing straw onto a hemp field in the Applegate Valley as a test. The technique uses a blower he rented in Portland that grinds up straw and shoots it out 60 feet, moving 7 tons an hour.
This growing season has seen a huge increase in acres planted in industrial hemp — a variety of cannabis low in the psychoactive chemical THC but high in fiber and cannabidiol (CBD), a substance widely believed to have medicinal properties. The 2018 U.S. farm bill enacted last December legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity.
Jackson County leads all counties with more than 8,500 acres planted in hemp this year. Almost 56,000 acres are planted statewide.
Initial public reaction was critical of hemp farmers for using plastic sheeting to control weeds and reduce water use. Some growers are using a biodegradable material that can be tilled into the soil after harvest, but it costs more than plastic. So does the straw alternative.
Meanwhile, one data analytics firm predicts U.S. hemp sales will hit $2.6 billion by 2022.
Local growers hope to cash in on that trend. Rogue Valley residents hope they can do it without clogging landfills with plastic.