Tensions rise inside and outside of Oregon's Capitol
SALEM, Ore. (AP) - State police declared an illegal gathering in the Oregon Capitol on Monday as far-right protesters speaking out against COVID-19 restrictions attempted to get their way during a one-day special session, with some protesters carrying guns and others attacking authorities with bear spray.
At the Capitol, lawmakers passed four bills on Monday night, including $ 800 million for people suffering from pandemics and forest fires, extending an eviction moratorium through June, and providing funds to help tenants and landlords.
"Make no mistake, if we don't pass this law, thousands of families will lose their homes in January and it's up to us," Eugene Democrat Julie Fahey told her colleagues.
The scene at the Capitol was very different earlier in the day when a group of protesters broke their way and used chemical agents and bear spray on officers. At least two people were arrested, the police said.
Lawmakers, including Senate President Peter Courtney, said the chemical agents lingered in the aisles, making them cough as they discussed bills.
Outside, protesters banged their fists on the doors and sang, “Let's get in.” The state's Capitol will be closed to the public during the special session as part of a COVID-19 security measure. However, during the Thursday and Saturday hearings, a virtual testimony was allowed about the bills that were expected to be debated by lawmakers on Monday.
Police cordoned off the streets around the Capitol, but from noon people started shouting "Kate Brown's arrest" and referring to the Democratic governor who has expanded virus restrictions in the state.
One person climbed a 6-meter-high relief sculpture next to the front steps of the building and waved an American flag as people cheered.
Other protesters walked around their bodies with rifles as state police repeatedly announced in armored vehicles that people must leave the area.
At 2:00 p.m., the excitement of the crowd increased as people tried to break glass doors that led into the Capitol. Oregon Public Broadcasting and Statesman Journal reporters posted videos on Twitter of protesters attacking them.
House spokeswoman Tina Kotek described the violence and damage to the Capitol as "disturbing and frightening".
Sen. Courtney, Oregon's senior lawmaker, said Monday's protests "rocked" him.
"It was sad today," said Courtney. "There's been a lot of anger - real anger - a lot of meanness and a lot of open division and I can't find a way to stop it."
Legislators are no stranger to protests, whether by members of the public or their own colleagues.
Last year, Republican senators held a series of strikes that blocked a school finance tax. They returned after Democrats scrapped bills on gun control and another that would have capped religious exemptions from vaccines.
A month later, Republicans failed to come to the Capitol again to stop a bill introducing a carbon tax. During this time, the governor sent the state police to bring the absent Republican senators back to the Capitol, and in response, some senators fled the state.
About 80 kilometers northeast of the Capitol, Portland was the epicenter of the protests against Black Lives Matter, in which police and protesters as well as protesters from other political groups clashed.
There were also tense moments within the Capitol walls.
On Monday morning, Republican Senator Dallas Heard stood in front of his colleagues in the Senate and accused the Democrats and Senate President Peter Courtney of joining Brown's "campaign against the people and children of God."
The Senator from Roseburg called the special session “illegitimate”, as the public is not allowed in, and described it as an “uncontrolled attack” on people and their freedom.
He also refused the mask mandate.
"If you hadn't done so much harm to my people and just asked me to wear my mask, I would have," Heard said. "But you ordered it and therefore I declare my right to protest against your false authority and to remove my mask."
Heard spoke to protesters outside and was absent from the remainder of the special session.
The four bills passed by lawmakers on Monday during the special one-day session were an eviction moratorium that included $ 200 million for landlords and tenants, a restaurant aid package that included a provision to legalize takeaway cocktails, a bill, Protected in front of schools are some coronavirus-related lawsuits and a move that will transfer $ 600 million to the state emergency fund for COVID-19 and Forest Fire Response and Recovery.
The bill that has dominated legislative discussions for weeks and that creates the immediate need for a special session is Bill 4401, which focuses on evictions.
Since the eviction moratorium of the federal and state governments expires at the end of the year, the issue has come to the fore.
Housing advocates have been calling on lawmakers to extend the moratorium for weeks, estimating that between 20,000 and 40,000 households in Oregon could be at risk of eviction.
The bill extends the moratorium on eviction from residential buildings until June 2021. In addition, tenants are required to provide an affidavit stating that they have had financial difficulties in order to be protected from eviction.
In addition, the bill provides $ 150 million for a landlord compensation fund to repay landlords owed rents. However, landlords must waive 20% of overdue payments.
The third special session lasted a total of 10 hours.
Cline is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program in which journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.
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