The decision by Portland police to charge a 34-year-old nursing assistant with the rape of an 87-year-old nursing home patient is drawing new attention to sexual assault issues in Oregon nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that care for the elderly.

According to a recent article in The Oregonian, a Portland man “is charged with first-degree rape and first-degree unlawful sexual penetration. He… is being held in the Washington County jail with bail set at $250,000.” The paper adds that the alleged rape was not the first time the suspect had been brought to the attention of police: they received a complaint about him back in June in reference to the assault of a 94-year-old woman at the same facility “but couldn’t substantiate it at the time.” Now, the paper reports, quoting the Washington County Sheriff’s office, the accused could also face charges in that case. Law enforcement authorities tell the paper they believe other victims may also come forward.

The arrested man “was licensed as a certified nursing assistant in February 2015 and has no history of discipline. He graduated from the Caregiver Training Institute in October last year, according to records,” The Oregonian reports.

According to the Oregon Department of Prisons website our state first experimented with private prisons in the late 1800s. The state penitentiary “was leased to a private company… Since this concept was becoming very popular nationwide, Oregon’s legislature approved the experiment.” It did not last long. “In one day every inmate at the penitentiary escaped. Most walked out the front gate.”

This amusing historical nugget is a reminder that some ideas never quite go away – in this case the idea that private companies are always more efficient and that their need to make a profit will not result in either sloppy work or abuses (the 19th century version of private prisons made their money mainly by hiring the prisoners out as labor). Today, private prisons are illegal in Oregon, and our state is one of 11 that do not use the private system at all, according to a 2012 report by The Sentencing Project. An announcement by the Obama administration last month that the Federal government will phase out its use of private prisons is also likely to put a dent in the industry.

As a recent article in The New Yorker outlines, however, beyond the full-scale privatization of prisons the growth of all prisons over the last generation along with America’s collective assumption that private services are always superior to public services has led to some shocking arrangements in both government and private-run prisons. These often deny basic civil rights to prisoners with the goal of making money for the government. For example, the magazine notes, “short phone calls from prison can cost up to fifteen dollars, largely because the companies operate as monopolies within prison walls. The private companies also offer state and local authorities a percentage of their revenue, which contributes to the cost of the calls and creates other perverse incentives. Some jails, for instance, have removed in-person family-visitation rooms to make way for ‘video visitation’ terminals, provided by private firms, which can charge as much as thirty dollars for forty minutes of screen time.”

As we head into another long holiday weekend this is a good moment to remember the importance of road and traffic safety. This year caution is especially important because 2016 is already shaping up as an unusually deadly year both here in Oregon and nationwide.

As a recent article in The Columbian noted, “traffic fatalities were up 9 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.” More alarmingly, however, Oregon was second in the nation (trailing only Vermont) in the extent to which traffic deaths have increased since 2014. Two years ago the state recorded 128 traffic fatalities during the first half of the year. This year the figure was 217 – a stunning 70 percent increase. Those numbers are all the more worrying when they are combined with the just-released estimate from the National Safety Council that some 438 people will lose their lives in traffic accidents nationwide over the holiday weekend (defined as 6pm local time on Friday through 11:59pm on Monday). In addition the Council estimates that the holiday period will see 50,300 people injured seriously enough that they will need to consult a doctor or another medical professional. Historically Labor Day sees more traffic accidents than most other holiday periods, the council’s news release notes.

There are, of course, many causes for traffic deaths, but on weekends like Labor Day attention inevitably focuses on drunk driving. A news release from the Oregon State Police warns motorists both to expect “heavy traffic volumes” and to “get a designated driver (plan ahead) if you plan on consuming intoxicating substances.”

Today is back to school day here in Portland and that means that in many neighborhoods the streets and sidewalks are going to filled with kids headed to school in the morning and home or to after-school activities each afternoon. Coming one week after a 15-year-old was killed while crossing a city street this is a time to reflect on what we can all do to help keep kids safe.

According to a report by TV station KATU, the fatal crosswalk accident took place earlier this month at the corner of Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a 20-year-old driver who “was passing other cars, reaching upwards of 60 mph” before the fatal accident. The girl’s friends and family came together last Friday for a memorial bike ride in her honor that began on Salmon Street, stopped at City Hall and ended at the accident site. “The protestors, specifically, have taken issue with Vision Zero, Portland’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths,” KATU wrote about the memorial ride. “Critics argue the initiative hasn’t done much except outline a goal.”

With the accident freshly in mind The Oregonian offered some useful reminders concerning back-to-school safety. The newspaper notes that there are no statewide regulations requiring school zones to be identified in a consistent manner. That creates a special responsibility for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, since it isn’t always immediately clear that one is around a school, especially when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. The paper notes that only 30 percent of kids arrive at school in a family car and 22 percent ride a school bus. That leaves about one-third of all students walking to school while another 10 percent ride bikes.

With the first day of school here in Portland now less than two weeks away this is a good time to focus our attention once again on the issue of lead in school drinking water. As I wrote in a blog last May, the issue emerged with special urgency as the previous school year drew to a close with the citywide scandal in Flint, Michigan drawing national attention to lead poisoning issues nationwide.

Unfortunately if local and national media coverage are anything to go by the answer to the question: ‘Have the Portland schools used the summer months to fix the problem?’ is: hard to say; it isn’t clear. An article published in The Oregonian just this week focused on similar problems in Beaverton – indicating that the problem is not confined to Oregon’s largest city, but with the Portland Schools still trying to finalize selection of an interim superintendent attention appears to have drifted away from the issue of lead in the school system’s drinking water.

As a report last week in The Oregonian detailed, the Portland Public Schools system’s record is not good. “Lead-reducing filters cost about $100 and are proven by independent laboratories to reduce lead to below 10 parts per billion. The district used filters that in 2008 cost $12.87 apiece.” A 2007 plan to install filters directly on drinking fountains went awry when it was discovered that the contractor used the wrong filters. A 2011 attempt using a different company led to filters that were supposed to last seven months failing after only 12 days.

Two months ago I wrote about the legal issues surrounding traveling carnivals and the fact that in many parts of the country they receive far fewer safety inspections than one might think. The death last week of a 10-year-old boy who was riding what is billed as the world’s largest waterslide, has brought these issues sharply into focus with new attention being paid to fixed-location rides in theme parks, and how they differ, in regulatory terms, from traveling carnivals. The 168-foot-tall waterslide where this month’s tragedy occurred is located at an amusement park near Kansas City, Kansas.

One might expect that large rides designed to induce an adrenaline rush through speed and danger would receive more regular and more careful attention than a traveling show: they offer even greater potential danger (because of the heights and speeds involved) yet are far easier to inspect (since they are not constantly moving from town to town). As the reporting since last week’s tragedy has shown, however, that assumption is badly misplaced.

The Kansas City Star reports that the “responsibility for inspecting Schlitterbahn water park rests primarily with its owners, not any state or federal agency.” The newspaper added that the water slide where the boy died “had not been inspected by the state since it opened two years ago, government records show.” More tellingly, the paper reports that a Kansas law governing amusement park rides requires annual inspections but allows these to be conducted by private-sector inspectors hired by the ride’s owners. The state can audit the inspection records, but is prevented by law from doing so more than twice every six months. According to the Star there have been no state inspections of the waterslide where the boy died in the two years since the ride opened.

As the Portland Tribune noted last month, our city recently hosted a major media event in which “a fleet of high-tech electric vehicles were road-tested in downtown Portland by more than a dozen automotive journalists.”

The Tribune reported that “all of the drives went smoothly, with cars easily weaving through midday traffic, even over the Hawthorne Bridge with its notoriously slippery steel grating and the Morrison Bridge with its deteriorating decking.” The test event comes at a moment when self-driving technology is still far from mainstream, but is clearly moving in that direction. Tesla (which, the Tribune reports, did not participate in the Portland event) and Google have both received huge amounts of publicity for the self-driving cars they are working to develop.

That fact, however, makes it all the more important that we use this moment to begin a serious conversation about the legal issues that self-driving cars will inevitably raise. The question is especially timely because it was barely two months ago that “the driver of an all-electric Tesla car was killed in a crash while driving on the manufacturer’s ‘Autopilot’ system.” As the Tribune goes on to note: “”(T)he ‘Autopilot’ name gave the impression the systems – which have never been approved by the federal government – could drive the cars safely by themselves.”

Late last month Ikea agreed to recall 29 million children’s chests and dressers that had been sold in the United States and Canada since 2002. After pressure from the public and state media in China the company extended the recall to that country as well, adding another 1.7 million units to the total, according to a recent article in Slate.

“The Swedish company announced the American recall after the deaths of at least six toddlers, cases where the near-ubiquitous Malm and other models of chests and drawers toppled over and fell onto children,” Slate reported. Yet as the online magazine also reports, Ikea says it has no plans to recall millions more units that have been sold outside North America and China.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission “the recalled chests and dressers are unstable if they are not properly anchored to the wall, posing a serious tip-over and entrapment hazard that can result in death or serious injuries to children.” The announcement on the CPSC website (see link below) noted that the agency and Ikea are aware of three fatalities and at least 17 injuries linked to the chests tipping over. All three of the tragic deaths involved children under the age of two. In each of these cases the chest or dresser in question was not secured to a wall.

A fatal stabbing at a niteclub in Northeast Portland last week has led to a murder charge, according to a report published in The Oregonian. It also raises a significant civil law question, however, one that deserves greater public attention as the case unfolds in the weeks and months to come.

According to the newspaper a 29-year-old woman was stabbed to death in a club on NE 60th Avenue last week following an argument with a 23-year-old woman. Citing police the newspaper reports that the two women knew each other. The victim died at the scene and the alleged killer was arrested without incident shortly thereafter at a nearby convenience store. In addition to murder the suspect has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon, according to the newspaper.

What makes this case particularly interesting from a civil perspective is the long history of violence in or near the club. According to The Oregonian “the club has been connected with violence in the past. A 33-year-old man died and a 21-year-old woman was injured in an overnight shooting outside the club in 2013. And in January 2011 a man celebrating his 24th birthday was fatally shot outside the club.”

The death over the holiday weekend of a well-known figure in Brooklyn’s cycling community is being investigated by police as a possible intentional hit-and-run, according to the local website Gothamist. The death is focusing attention once again on the dangers the cycling community faces even in cities that strive to be bike-friendly.

The website, citing law enforcement sources and a local television station, reports “that the driver of a black Chevy Camero intentionally crashed into (the victim) around 2:20am Saturday” on a Brooklyn street as he was riding home from his job as a bartender in Manhattan. Video of the incident was captured by a security camera at a restaurant near the scene of the fatal bike and car crash.

It is especially important to note that the victim was riding in a bike lane at the time of the incident. “Investigators believe the driver pulled alongside… slowed down and moved the car partially into the bike lane, where the victim was riding… the driver then hit (the bicycle’s) rear tire and as the victim fell off his bike the driver slammed into him again, running over him and dragging him about 20 to 30 feet.”