PROPERTY SEIZURE BILL STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION

June 11, 2001 12:00 am

Property owners and those charged with crimes need some protections. And so do the wishes of voters. Thats why its good the Oregon House has approved a bill to implement Measure 3, which keeps local authorities from seizing property until a conviction is made.

The problem is that the civil forfeiture law let police garner proceeds from illegal drug deals. The funds were used to pay for drug probes. That doesnt sound bad in itself, but the consequences were that some property was seized before conviction, before the reasonable-doubt bar was cleared. After voters approved Measure 3 last fall, a criminal conviction became needed for forfeiture. This stopped most seizures.

The question is, shouldnt property owner rights be carefully weighed? And shouldnt some of the money be used not just for enforcement but for treatment, to stop the downward spiral of drug abuse and some of the related crime before it starts.

The bill would require that 40 percent of proceeds from each forfeiture go to operating costs for local law enforcement agencies; another 40 percent would go to drug treatment programs. Law enforcement is fighting the bill, as this funding level seems too low to them. But looking at the long-term picture, the bill seems to strike a good balance between enforcement on the one hand and stopping the cycle of drug abuse at the demand end.

Sure, convicted criminals need not have property protected that was acquired through crimes such as prostitution and drug trafficking. But we must make sure we go beyond a reasonable doubt before property seizures occur.

The Senate should also pass the bill, and the governor should sign it into law.

Look for balance in

national forest planning

Some environmentalists are sweating out a Forest Service plan to look at ways to protect roadless areas in federal forests. The trouble is, the Forest Service chief wants to use a local system of forest planning. He wants decisions made on a

forest-by-forest basis.

Upon further review, a Clinton-era ban on almost all logging and road building on 58.5 million acres of national forests may have been overreaching. Thats one-third of the national forest total in America. Sure, we need to be sure to protect the most pristine areas. And local planners need to do a better job of balancing environmental needs versus timber company and other extraction needs.

Another issue to keep in mind is that the national forest is a national treasure. It belongs to all of us. The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, for example, belongs just as much to the golden-ager in a Florida retirement community as it does to the rancher in Summerville, or the variety store worker in La Grande.

Were not saying proceed willy-nilly into commercial logging and road construction. A local system of forest planning, well devised to keep the interests of the nation in mind, remembering good environmental policy is good long-term economics, is a fine place to start a national forest management policy for the future.