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Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Columbian and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Americans owe more than $1.6 trillion in student loans, making that the second-largest sector of consumer debt, behind mortgages.

While that warrants attention from Congress and has generated numerous policy recommendations, it also calls for an examination of the causes. Primary among them is the fact that from 1988 to 2015, tuition as a share of funding for public colleges rose from 24 percent to 46 percent.

In other words, state governments have been swapping the burden for educating the next generation from taxpayers to students. That trend was exacerbated following the Great Recession, when states typically reduced funding for public education. In Washington, according to Vox.com, the state provided 70 percent of the funding for public colleges in 1991; by 2013, that had dropped to 30 percent.

Washington has made strides since then, with the Legislature working to boost funding for state colleges and limit tuition increases. Lawmakers have bolstered financial aid packages and expanded the State Need Grant — rebranded as the Washington College Grant — while recognizing that funding for colleges is an investment in our state’s future. But recent and future students here and elsewhere still face financial burdens that were not felt by previous generations and often leave the American Dream out of reach.

All of this comes to mind as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, announces that she has co-sponsored a bill (H.R. 4193) to help college students understand the complexities of their loans. The legislation would require lenders to provide students with monthly statements about accrued interest, projected payments and the total lifetime cost of a loan. Currently, lenders are required to provide information only upon disbursement, prior to repayment and during repayment.

“We owe it to our students to increase transparency when they sign for a loan; the process should be simple and understandable, with the goal of setting up every young person for success,” Herrera Beutler wrote in a media release.

Effort to silence free press is wrongNewspapers and other professional news organizations aim to factually report the news, which often includes shining light on the actions of public officials. That glare of public scrutiny doesn’t always set well those holding office.

And it’s not only President Donald Trump who lashes out at media when questioned — although he has certainly taken it to new levels — but those elected at the local and state level.

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An example of this has occurred in a small community in Eastern Oregon, yet it has gotten so contentious it has made national news.

The Washington Post this week reported that The Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Ore., spent months investigating a state lawmaker’s business deals and contract work. On Monday, it was reported that Malheur County wants to investigate the Malheur Enterprise for harassment — as in reporters making too many phone calls and sending too many emails.

That’s absurd. It’s the job of journalists to get the facts, and the involves communicating with people. As the First Amendment makes clear, a free press cannot be constrained by government restrictions.

But Oregon state Rep. Greg Smith, a Republican who serves as director of Malheur County Economic Development — the lawmaker at the center of the journalists’ investigation — doesn’t see it that way. He complained to the Enterprise, “It is not appropriate that you are sending emails to employees using their personal email accounts on the weekends,” and asked “to not have our employees contacted outside of their work place.”

Now, to be clear, Smith certainly has the right to complain about the coverage and even the phone calls and email. But it is just plain wrong to gin-up an investigation to stifle news coverage. On Wednesday, Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said an inquiry determined no laws had been broken.

“Suggesting that professional journalists are behaving as criminals in gathering vital information for the community appears to be an effort to silence and intimidate the Enterprise,” said Enterprise Editor and Publisher Les Zaitz, a Pulitzer Prize finalist while a reporter at Portland’s Oregonian. “... Rather than provide information and truth, local officials appear more interested in criminalizing a profession protected by the First Amendment.”

Kyu Ho Youm, a communications law professor at the University of Oregon, said the Malheur County situation fits into a larger pattern of intimidation of journalists by government officials, notably the president. He went on to describe an “anti-press climate” that has emboldened local officials to take legally questionable action against reporters in the face of unfavorable coverage.

And that’s why this episode in is extremely troubling. Journalists should not be — and cannot be — kept from seeking the truth by officials using the government’s power to block their investigations.

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