July 27, 2001 11:00 pm

SALEM (AP) All Oregon parents could have their first-born children screened for medical and social problems under a state-funded program signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber on Friday.

The $60 million program called the Childrens Plan by Kitzhaber was a priority for the governor during the legislative session that ended July 7.

Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician, says more screening of children for possible developmental risks, such as a parents drug or alcohol abuse, can help reduce juvenile crime, failures in school and other social problems.

The measure sets Oregon apart from the rest of the nation in terms of our vision, our commitment and our resolve toward helping children, Kitzhaber said before signing the measure, HB3569.

The program is voluntary, with a goal of screening the states 18,000 first-born infants each year.

Screenings would be done during prenatal or follow-up visits at hospitals, clinics or doctors offices. Families with children found to be facing problems would be offered social services through state and local programs.

Goals include providing better access to mental health treatment for families and increasing enrollment in preschool programs.

Most of the money for the plan is shifted from other social programs.

Kitzhaber has said the state is suffering from a silent crisis with as many as six in 10 newborn children facing harm from parental drug or alcohol abuse, violence and neglect.

Kitzhaber says he views the Childrens Plan as a beginning because screenings should be available for all of the about 44,000 children born in Oregon each year.

Other bills signed Friday by Kitzhaber included:

SB914, creates a fund from money from asset forfeitures in civil cases to expand drug treatment options for people accused of nonviolent drug offenses.

HB2646, increases maximum penalty from one year in jail to five years in prisons for assaulting police, firefighters or corrections employees.

SB133, makes it a crime for felons to possess bullet-resistant vests or other body armor.

AP-WS-07-27-01 1941EDT