Protests rock Oregon Capitol as lawmakers convene hectic special session

Washington Examiner – by Tim Gruver

Oregon lawmakers saw protests inside and outside of the state Capitol building as they convened on Monday to vote on pandemic relief amid the waning days of 2020.

Oregon Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, held his own protest on the floor of the Senate as the day began, removing his mask before his fellow lawmakers in defiance of health restrictions requiring facial coverings in the building. 

Heard said he removed his mask in protest of what he called Gov. Kate Brown’s infringement on individual liberties and people’s God-given rights.

His actions drew a stern rebuttal from Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who warned Heard he was in danger of dismissal from the chamber before the unmasked senator left the floor without escort.

“You have no message,” Courtney said as Heard left the chamber to speak to the protesters outside and denounce the governor’s face mask order.

Outside of the Capitol building, as many as 300 people armed with signs and Trump paraphernalia attempted to storm the legislature, saying they took issue with the legislature closing Monday’s in-person session to the general public.

Pounding on the doors for hours, protesters could be heard screaming that they wanted to be let in to tell lawmakers to end the state’s health restrictions.

Oregon Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, expressed the same frustration Monday morning to the legislature’s Democratic majority.

“When I look around, I can’t help but notice what’s missing” Girod said. “The people. We are a government of the people.”

Within minutes, the building was swarming with Salem police and Oregon state troopers who pushed back against the crowds and the doors with lawmakers and the press inside. A number of protesters stood with rifles outside.

At least 50 officers, many decked out in tactical gear and gas masks, patrolled the building throughout the day while SWAT officers set up barriers around the Capitol mall grounds and at one point deployed several smoke devices.

Police outside declared the protest an unlawful assembly while some officers inside were able to convince protesters to move away from the doors peacefully.

At least one protester attempted to spray officers with a chemical agent that appeared to be mace while attempting to enter one antechamber blocked by officers.

One man, Ryan Lyles, was arrested for spraying state troopers at least twice with some type of chemical compound, Oregon State Police reported.

Among the protesters trying to force their way inside was Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, a right-wing activist who spoke at a protest outside of an Oregon safety inspector’s home in November.

He has frequented a number of violent protests in Oregon and Washington and was indicted on felony riot charges in 2019 for a fight at a Portland bar.

Oregon U.S. Senate candidate and Republican Jo Rae Perkins was also at the scene of the protest weeks after speaking at a “Stop the Steal” rally protesting President Trump’s defeat in the November 2020 general election.

At least two protesters who tried to breach the front lobby were led away by officers, one of whom could be heard shouting “I can’t breath,” akin to the Black Lives Matter chant protesting police chokeholds and racist policing.

Officers did not use tear gas and made their arrests with little drama or force, but they did not comment on how protesters briefly made their way into the building’s northwest antechamber. One stated a number of doors and windows were broken during Monday’s protest.

Oregon State Police reported on Monday that one man who attempted to break into the northwest side of the Capitol building was taken into custody. Reporters at the northwest wing were assaulted by several protesters, but avoided serious injuries.

Protests dragged on long into the night as lawmakers reconvened later that afternoon to approve a landlord bailout bill.

The bill come from Oregon Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, who proposed a $150 million plan to create a landlord reimbursement fund that drew criticism from landlords such as the Oregon Rental Housing Association.

Congress has given the nod to extending the federal eviction moratorium through January 31, more than a week after President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration.

Monday’s special session was the third Oregon lawmakers have convened in 2020 and the last before the end of the state’s eviction moratorium before December 31.

Other items on the agenda that lawmakers debated on Monday included refilling the coffers of the state Emergency Board’s pandemic relief funds, legal liability protections for schools, and restaurant health restrictions.

Monday’s special session is expected by lawmakers to last just 24 hours before the legislature reconvenes on January 19, 2021 for its next regular session.

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