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An accounting is in order

Lenn Hannon should explain whyhis office account is nearly empty

We think former State Sen. Lenn Hannon has some explaining to do regarding how he spent his office expense budget in the last few months before he resigned to take a position on the state Parole Board.

Hannon is among five lawmakers projected to have little or nothing left in their office accounts when the next session begins in January 2005. Legislators often spend most or all the money they are allocated for the interim between sessions.

But Hannon's situation stands out because he has left office, and his successor will start the new job this month with just &

36;4,222 to last until January.

All lawmakers received &

36;33,228 at the end of the 2003 legislative session to cover staff and office supply costs until January 2005. Hannon spent most of that money paying his wife, Dixie, &

36;4,134 a month as his legislative aide.

Lawmakers employing spouses is commonplace, even encouraged, in the Oregon Legislature. And we have no doubt that Dixie Hannon is worth every penny of that salary, probably even more, given her lengthy experience in the Capitol.

Our problem with this situation is that, had Lenn Hannon not left the Senate, he surely would not have drained his office account at this rate. He would have made it last.

— To leave a new senator with less than &

36;5,000 to last nearly 10 months just looks bad.

Republican leaders clearly think so. They have sent Hannon a letter asking him to return the money.

We don't begrudge any lawmaker a competent staff. And we don't suggest that lawmakers be forced to hire staff for minimum wage, or that this money could be better spent to plug holes in the state budget. The entire budget for legislative staff and office expenses is less than — percent of the state general fund.

We do question those who insist on spending every penny of their allotment just because it's there.

As for Hannon, we think he owes the leadership, and his constituents, a full accounting of how he spent the money and why it was necessary to do so. Only he can say whether any should be paid back.

We also suggest that the Legislature adopt more stringent rules regarding how office accounts are spent and how much staff members are paid. While the Legislature does have guidelines for staff salaries, perhaps a strict pay scale is in order, providing increases for experience or special expertise.

When it comes to spending public money, the little things can be just as important as the big things.

It's about time

The state Department of Motor Vehicles has expanded its impaired driver program. It's about time.

The expanded program is meant to get people off the road who don't have the ability to drive safely because of physical or mental impairments or because of aging and other causes. Some officials and physicians had considered the state's old reporting law outdated because it required reports only when a patient had suffered lapses in consciousness or control.

Reporting changed last July 1. Doctors and some other health care providers now will be required to report to the DMV any severe and uncontrollable physical or mental impairment that makes drivers unsafe. Medical advances are taken into account under the new system by allowing a driver to avoid a license suspension if there's a way to correct or control the impairment.

By Dec. 31, the new system was in effect in 13 counties, including Jackson and Josephine. The changes will go statewide June 1.

Most of the people on the road are safe drivers, and most have have seen examples of motorists who shouldn't be behind the wheel. The new rules make it more likely that unsafe drivers will be stopped before they injure themselves or someone else.