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November 15, 2005
Letter from Oregon Senator Doug
One of our major Legislative accomplishments this past session was our work on the methamphetamine plague in Oregon. One of the critical elements of that scourge that we failed to address is the use of methamphetamine by pregnant women.
Methamphetamine use during pregnancy results in this dangerous drug being passed through the placenta to the fetus and through the umbilical cord to the newborn baby. The mother’s breast milk may also be laced with the poisonous drug. The consequences include both physical and chemical brain damage to the fetus, premature birth and fetal death. Affected newborn babies experience drug withdrawal symptoms and even seizures. Tragically, these babies exposed to methamphetamine during pregnancy are frequently impaired for life. A significant portion of our growing number of students with learning disabilities, mental and behavioral problems is directly related to our methamphetamine epidemic.
Additionally, methamphetamine users are often involved in domestic violence, criminal activities necessary to pay for their drugs, and are mentally disoriented making their parenting skills inadequate. Children whose mothers used methamphetamine during pregnancy are more than four times more likely to experience neglectful supervision, lack of essential food, substandard hygiene, poor sleeping conditions, and inadequate medical and dental treatments. They are nearly three times more likely to suffer physical abuse
What our legislature failed to do was to make methamphetamine use during pregnancy a crime. Under Oregon law it is illegal to manufacture, possess, or sell methamphetamine, but it is not illegal to ingest the poison. The ill effects of the drug on the fetus and the newborn are of no legal consequence to the mother under current Oregon law. That law needs to be changed. Until the Oregon legislature extends protection from child abuse to unborn and newborn babies this travesty will continue.
Two vocal opponents of that change are some of the national medical associations and some of the pro-choice advocates
Those medical associations are concerned that criminalizing illegal drug use may keep pregnant drug users from seeking pre-natal medical help. They worry that this may deprive these most vulnerable babies from much needed prenatal and postnatal care. They are concerned that it may actually lead to more abortions.
Some pro-choice advocates are concerned that extending protection to unborn babies may lead to more restrictions on the women’s right to choose. Under current Oregon law an unborn child is not afforded the rights of a person or a human being. They worry that extension of any human rights to a fetus could undermine the pro-choice position.
I do not accept either of those arguments. We must create sanctions adequate to encourage women to stop ingesting methamphetamine while pregnant. We must develop the long term mandatory treatment capacity necessary to help these women to recover from their addiction. Concurrently, we must develop short and long term foster parenting capacity to care for these children until the parents have controlled their methamphetamine addiction.
I will work on our interim Senate judiciary committee to create a body of work that I hope will lead to appropriate legislation that will protect these infants.
Although the methamphetamine addiction problem is a statewide issue it is most prevalent in rural Oregon. Our rural leaders must take the initiative in fighting the destruction of our communities by this most addictive drug. If we do not stand up for our rural communities, no one will.
Last Monday Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney announced his first eight Senate committees for the between session interim. He appointed Doug to three of
those first eight committees.
His first assignment is to be vice –chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. He will serve on that committee with Joint Ways and Means Co-chair Kurt Schrader, majority leader Kate Brown, minority leader Ted Ferrioli, and Betsy Johnson who represents the North coast. This committee reviews agency audits and accountability. For instance, the Department of Human Services recently failed to repay a short term legislative loan--- a default of more than 37 million dollars— they are unable to explain what caused this shortfall--- this is an example of a complete lack of accountability that to me is totally unacceptable. The same agency also admitted that they have leased an entire 18,000 square foot floor of a Portland office building for more than ten years that they have never used. This useless lease cost our taxpayers $27,000 a month for ten years--- more than three million dollars.
His second appointment is to the Interim committee on Judiciary where he will serve with the same group of Senators as during the last session. They will be considering issues related to sex offenders like trafficking in sex slavery. They will study methamphetamine manufacture, distribution, and use, ---and if Doug has his way, reform of the tort liability system in this state.
His third committee is the Interim Committee on Revenue. This group will consider the effectiveness and fairness of taxes and other Oregon fund raising activities. This committee will meet in Salem November 23rd.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo has also asked Doug to serve on a committee to study consolidation of the Oregon School for the Blind and the Oregon School for the Deaf. This review will also include the cost effectiveness of contracting out the two programs to a local education agency. Currently these schools that serve less than 180 students have a biennial budget of more than $21 million. The school for the blind employs almost three employees for each student. The first committee meeting is scheduled for December 7th in Salem.
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