Others Say - 1/11

Selected editorials from other Oregon newspapers

Federal law should raise minimum wage and apply index

As the nation grapples with chronic unemployment and stagnant or falling pay, Oregon is among 10 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1.

That’s good news for the estimated 96,000 workers who are paid at the minimum in Oregon — and for 750,000 low-income workers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

In Oregon, the minimum will be bumped 15 cents to $8.95, adding more than $300 to a full-time worker’s yearly compensation. That may not sound like much to some people, but it makes a big difference for low-wage workers and their families who struggle to deal with rising costs for utilities, housing, food and other essentials.

The minimum wage goes up annually in states that have laws requiring annual inflation adjustments. Oregon voters approved an initiative requiring wage indexing in 2002 in an election that prompted an intense debate over whether a high rate with indexing helps or hurts the economy.

Oregon’s experience suggests that proponents of indexing have the stronger argument. Most Oregon employers pay more than the minimum wage. The raises that the lowest-paid workers receive result in increased consumer demand as workers pay for basic necessities, so the money immediately flows back into local and state economies. Meanwhile, other Oregon workers often receive indirect raises as their pay rates are adjusted to reflect the new minimum wage.

The net result has been a modest but certainly welcome boost for the state’s economy and the wages of its neediest working citizens. And these benefits have been realized without any additional government spending.

Since indexing took effect in Oregon in 2004, the state’s minimum wage has climbed $2.05 per hour. Critics rightly note that the higher wage has created some upward pressure on the price of some goods and services, but that pressure has been more than offset by the increase in workers’ purchasing power.

Critics also note that indexing creates disparities between states with automatic minimum-wage increases and those without them. That’s true, but there is little evidence these disparities have sent businesses fleeing to the lowest-wage states, although that eventually could happen if the differences become significant.

The clear solution is for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and require annual adjustments.

Proposals to do precisely that have been fiercely opposed by big business and congressional Republicans, although it’s worth recalling that Republican Mitt Romney supported indexing both as governor of Massachusetts and earlier this year as a presidential candidate.

There’s another, more compelling reason to increase the minimum wage: It’s simply the right thing to do. It’s increasingly clear that the nation’s economic recovery will remain in low gear for an extended period, perhaps years, and it’s a cynical, uncompassionate nation that allows the working poor to steadily become even poorer over the long term.

It’s time for federal lawmakers — including those who have dedicated their political careers to benefiting the nation’s wealthiest — to follow Oregon’s example of mandating cost-of-living increases for the nation’s lowest-paid workers.

­ — The Register-Guard



Oregon malpractice legislation needs to cap punitive damages

The effort to address medical malpractice awards will be back before the Oregon Legislature this session with at least two different approaches.

A bill in the works (LC299) would set a limit on punitive damages at three times economic damages and noneconomic damages.

The governor is also planning to submit a proposal based on the work of his Patient Defensive Medicine workgroup. That plan is expected to include a three-tiered system aimed at encouraging patients and medical providers to talk rather than sue.

The governor’s study group grew out of the 2012 legislative session’s failure to address the issue. Republicans, who have long sought limits on malpractice claims, tried to inject the issue into a debate on the overhaul of the Oregon Health Plan.

At the time, the governor acknowledged liability limits as a “legitimate issue” but said the one-month session was too short to work out details on such a complex subject.

The governor’s plan seeks to create a more open system that advocates say would prevent errors and help patients.

It would require medical providers to file a notice when a serious error occurs and then meet with the patient to seek resolution. If no agreement can be reached, mediation would follow. Legal action would be next if the mediation is unsuccessful.

Advocates hope such an approach would encourage physicians to talk with patients, thus increasing the chance they will learn from errors and avoid repeating them. Also, the idea is that patients would get compensation while reducing costs of litigation and defensive medicine.

Legislation is still in the drafting stage, according to the governor’s office, and is expected to be ready by the end of the month.

In contrast, LC299 focuses simply on capping punitive damages, which advocates say would cut the cost of health care by decreasing malpractice premiums and reducing unnecessary tests and procedures ordered by doctors to guard against lawsuits.

There’s potential in the ideas behind the governor’s plan, although the details are yet to come. But we believe a cap on punitive damages — as proposed in LC299 — is critical to making any significant dent in the problem.

­— The Bulletin


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