Inland Journal, March 5, 2020: Presidential Primaries, Guns In Sandpoint, Coronavirus, Opioids

Mar 5, 2020

Washington's presidential primary ballot includes the names of several Democratic candidates who have dropped out of the race.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Today on Inland Journal and the Inland Journal podcast, we look ahead to next week’s presidential primary in Washington.

“I think we’re one of the biggest on March 10 and I think that we’re going to get some national coverage, certainly, on Election Night and I think we’re going to see candidates, the two remaining candidates, come and campaign here.”

We’ll talk with Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman about issues related to the primary. Nick Deshais will tell us about a legal challenge over restricting guns at the Festival at Sandpoint.

The state of Idaho is preparing for the coronavirus. And we’ll talk about a public campaign in Washington aimed at steering young people away from opioids.

What an interesting few weeks it’s been in the presidential race with the re-emergence of Joe Biden and the contrast between Biden and Bernie Sanders.

On Tuesday, Washington and Idaho voters will have their chance to weigh in on that race. They are two of the six states participating in what is now called Big Tuesday. We’ll have NPR coverage of Big Tuesday on both KPBX and KSFC.

We talked on Wednesday with Washington’s top election official, Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
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[Story by Nick Deshais]

Guns are the center of a legal fight pitting a North Idaho community against itself.
 
War Memorial Field in Sandpoint is pretty quiet this time of year. People sitting in parked cars, engines running. A few dog walkers.

But come August, the small park overlooking North Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille will host up to 4,000 concert goers for the Festival at Sandpoint - as it’s done since 1983.

Last summer, Scott Herndon had a ticket to see the Avett Brothers. But he wasn’t there for the band. He was there, with his holstered .380 handgun, to challenge the festival’s rule prohibiting firearms. And he was recording the whole thing.

“How’s it going guys?” asks a security guard.

“Good,” Herndon said.

He didn’t get in.

“So Festival has a rule," the guard tells Herndon. "No weapons in the venue. So two options here. You can take it and secure it in your vehicle. Or we can take you over and refund your money to you.”

But Herndon didn’t go easy.

He asked the security guard to cite state law. He lectured him about the republican form of government. And he helped kick off a legal fight in this town of 8,000 people.

It’s not Herndon’s first legal tussle. In 2010, as the Bonner County Jail chaplain, he sued the county when he was barred from ministering to inmates after he advocated for a Priest Lake murder suspect. The sides eventually settled.

I met Herndon at a gas station outside of Sandpoint.

“I actually really just care about the law. And it’s not like I love to do lawsuits. But I actually really care when governments do not abide by the law," Herndon said.

After he posted his video to YouTube, the county sheriff and commissioners sued the city for allowing what they consider an unconstitutional gun ban.

The city pushed back, arguing they’re not banning anything. Festival organizers lease the land from the city. And private property rights allow the festival to stop guns from coming in.

In other words, the case pits two fundamental rights in Idaho against each other: The constitution versus private property. With guns at the center.

Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler brought the issue to county commissioners.

“I heard the voice of the citizens here living in Bonner County. We take the Second Amendment and that right very seriously. If you look at our constitution that was adopted in 1889, it’s so strong. The Second Amendment is codified in our state constitution and in our state laws and it’s very important that we have that right to protect ourselves and our families," Wheeler said.

He argues that the state lawbook - specifically, as he likes to remind,  section 18 dash 3302J - allows gun owners to take their firearms onto public property.

Sandpoint mayor Shelby Rognstad and council president Shannon Williamson wouldn’t comment for this story — referring questions to their lawyer, Peter Erbland, with the Lake City Law Group in Coeur d’Alene.

“It is a property rights issue from our standpoint because when property is leased to another party, that party has the right to possess and control that property and can exclude persons from it. The city doesn’t take a position on whether or not firearms should be excluded from Memorial Field. That’s entirely up to the festival," Erbland said.

In an email, festival office manager Amy Bistline said the festival will continue to bar firearms. She said some artists write into their contracts that guns aren’t allowed at their concerts. That, and there’s alcohol being consumed by a large number of people.

Herndon, who filmed his encounter, dismisses all concerns but his own.

“For me, there will be no compromise. And if the county compromises and it’s unacceptable to me, then we will file our lawsuit, whether it’s in state court or federal court, and we will work toward a resolution that meets our demands, which is that as long as they’re going to have a festival at a public park, then they will have to admit people that are keeping and bearing firearms," he said.

In the meantime, the people of Sandpoint are stuck in the middle.

Kay Walker was walking by the park one unseasonably warm day in late February. She’s followed the issue and says she’s not against guns, but she thinks the festival should prohibit them.

“It’s tough because I come from here. I come from decades of here. So there’s always been firearms," Walker said.

But she says these days, guns are more than what they once were.

“I don’t see a problem with people carrying firearms except now that there’s a conflict. And so now I don’t feel safe. Because I don’t think there’s common sense in carrying your firearms. I think somebody has a bone to pick," Walker said.

And Sandpoint residents are on the hook for legal fees from both sides. The Sandpoint Reader newspaper reported the city has paid $11,000 for legal work. The county also hired an attorney to the tune of $36,000.

A trial date has not been set.

We stay in Idaho for our next story, which is about how the Gem State is preparing for the coronavirus.

Idaho doesn’t yet have a confirmed case, but it’s only a matter of time, says state epidemiologist Christine Hahn. On Wednesday, Hahn and Governor Brad Little held a briefing in Boise for reporters.

“I think we have been fortunate we have not been among the first states and we’re fortunate that we don’t have what’s going on in Washington state, our neighbor, right now," Hahn said. "But we’ve been watching that closely and we are learning and communicating with Washington and other states, with the CDC daily on this growing and changing situation.”

Hahn says tests have been conducted on 15 people who showed symptoms. All results were negative. But more tests were scheduled for the foreseeable future. Hahn says it’s unrealistic to think Idaho will escape unscathed.

“What we can do is slow the virus down. It helps in several ways. We can reduce the impact and burden on the health care system, hospitals, urgent care centers, emergency departments, clinics, long term care facilities. They cannot handle a sudden influx of a lot of ill people. So by working to do the common sense measures that the governor and the director just mentioned, we can protect the vulnerable among us by keeping this virus from spreading person-to-person," she said.

Hahn says Idaho has been able to test a small number of patient samples at a state lab near Boise. But she says it won’t be able to keep up if the demand for coronavirus tests continues to increase.

“So we are requiring a public health process for approval for testing because we just don’t have that many test kits and we want to save those for the highest risk for the most ill," Hahn said. "But we have been assured that more tests are on the way and we also understood just yesterday that the FDA has authorized some other sectors, the University of Washington, for  example, can do testing now. We are working hard to learn more about that and to see whether Idaho providers could avail themselves of that testing for their patients.”
 
For now, Hahn says Idaho is playing the waiting game and taking care of little details.

“This time is allowing us to educate communities, get employers to figure out work-from-home plans that could be put into place, if needed, schools planning for children’s safety and school closures, if needed. That is all important work and we have a little bit of time to plan that and the slower this goes, the more time we’ll have," she said.

Governor Brad Little announced he has created a coronavirus working group to oversee his state’s response. It met for the first time on Wednesday.

For now, Little says the risk to Idahoans is low and he’s urging people to employ basic hygiene methods, such as washing hands, to protect themselves from exposure.

“From what we know about it, the 2019 novel coronavirus should not be of concern for parents of healthy children. But for our older population and those with compromised health conditions, the coronavirus, just like the common flu, could be very harmful or deadly, especially since it’s occurring during the flu season," Little said.

The state has developed a new online resource so people can access up-to-date information. You can find that at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

And now from public health threat to another, opioid addiction.

The Washington State Health Care Authority is running Starts with One, a media campaign aimed at keeping young people from using opioids.

Ad: “Opioids are now one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths in Washington state. More people die from overdoses than from car crashes. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 3,300 lives in Washington were lost to opioid overdose. We are all part of the solution. Your choices matter. If you are prescribed an opioid pain medication, talk with your doctor about other options and don’t share your prescriptions with other people. It starts with you. Learn more at get the facts rx dot com.”

“It can be something as simple and innocuous as somebody saying that they have a headache and giving them prescription medication that was used for their migraines," said Elysia Spencer, the coalition coordinator for the Shadle Prevention and Wellness Coalition in Spokane.

“Opioids are controlled substances for a reason and usually have heavy and rapidly occurring addiction rates. What can seem like an innocent and even helpful thing to do very often leads to people having sustained addiction and spiraling to an out-of-control situation with opioid use. We need to educate people that the prescription is for the person that it’s prescribed to and it’s not about sharing medication," Spencer said.

Doug: “This seems to be a campaign that hits on several different things. It’s how to talk with your kids about. It’s about how to get rid of the opioids that you have in your cabinet that you’re not able to use. Talk about that broad perspective of trying to hit it from a lot of different angles.”

Elysia Spencer: “Part of the campaign that I am most proud of is that it’s about empowering everybody, especially if you don’t have somebody in your immediate family or circle. It’s easy to be dismissive of the opioid crisis and that’s something that’s happening to them. Whereas this is, in a lot of ways, something that we can all participate in a lot of little steps to help prevent the future use or abuse and can also make sure that what we do have in our homes is properly disposed of. There are a lot of people that still assume that if you have expired prescription medication you should flush them down the toilet. Especially living in our region above the Spokane aquifer, that is something that we want to remind people, again and again, please do not flush your prescription medication because they are finding trace amounts of those types of drugs in fish, in plant life, in the river system themselves and that’s the water that we’re trying to drink. So, from an environmental protection perspective, good stewardship says we need to find proper ways of disposing of these medications.”

There are several pharmacies and law enforcement agencies in Spokane County where you can take your expired medications for safe disposal. You can find a list of those at TakeBackYourMeds.org.

Elysia Spencer says the Starts With One campaign is aimed not only at young people, but also at their friends and family and at older adults.

“Older adults having more medication on hand at any given time, blood pressure medication, diabetes medication and the young adults that may have access to that. It’s educating all the generations with the targeted objective of reducing youth opioid use," Spencer said. "Then there’s the additional benefit that if we all are taking better care, securing our medication, disposing of it when it becomes expired, disposing of it properly so it can’t be misused by somebody else, it’s going to have an impact beyond just youth. But that is the stated objective of the campaign.”

You can find more at GettheFactsRX.com, where you can learn about how to start a conversation with your sons and daughters about opioid use and misuse.

Elysia Spencer: “I think a lot of people assume that they don’t need to have the conversation until much later. They’re like, ‘That’s a high school thing’ or ‘Maybe we should have that conversation before somebody goes to college.’ As simple as holding hands and looking both ways before crossing the street. It’s don’t take medication that isn’t prescribed for you. Don’t take medication unless mom or dad gives you the amount the doctor said when they were real little. It can hurt you. We would have to go to the hospital. It can give you a stomach ache. That’s a conversation you can have with a six-, seven-, eight-year-old. To start that conversation, to prevent accidental overdoses, kind of like we did with ‘Mr. Yuk’ stickers when I was a little kid. As they get older, in those very age appropriate ways, which is why the tools provided by the Starts With One campaign are so amazing, is it does give you some of those key points to hit, especially pre-teens and teens when they think they’re invincible and they can do anything, what are some straightforward facts that you can give a youth to counteract some of that peer pressure or online pressure that this is fine and acceptable.”

Elysia Spencer is the coalition coordinator for the Shadle Prevention and Wellness Coalition in Spokane.

Inland Journal airs every Thursday on Spokane Public Radio. The podcast is available anytime at spokane public radio dot org. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play.