The committee of two Democrats and two Republicans unanimously passed the motion near the close of a hearing into Sen. Brian Boquist's conduct that lasted several hours. The hearing room in the Oregon State Capitol was jammed with onlookers, including many of his supporters who held small American flags.
Boquist, a Republican from Dallas, warned on June 19 that if the Oregon State Police were sent to force him to return during a walkout by GOP senators that they should "send bachelors and come heavily armed." He also told Senate President Peter Courtney that "hell is coming to visit you personally" if he sent the state police after him. He apologized minutes later for his comments.
"This is a very, very serious thing," said Sen. James Manning, a Democratic committee member and one of only two African-American members of the Senate. "If I had made those comments, I would have been drug out of the Capitol, at minimum."
Boquist said in an interview last week the troopers lacked legal authority to apprehend senators. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat acting on Courtney's request, ordered the state police to bring the boycotting senators to the Senate so a quorum could be established and a vote conducted on the climate-change bill.
At the hearing, Boquist read from a prepared statement, announcing he is suing Courtney and others. He refused to be questioned by committee members. "Whether Kate Brown and/or Peter Courtney issued troopers and illegal order will now be determined in a court of law," Boquist said.
Brenda Baumgart, an outside attorney for the Senate, testified that while her investigation continues, the Senate should take steps to ensure it maintains an intimidation-free and safe work environment. She had said in a memo to legislative officials that the customary practice in such cases is to prevent the person who made threats from returning to the workplace.
The Senate committee members decided that Boquist must give at least 12 hours written notice that he planned to come to the Capitol, and that Oregon troopers, who provide security in the building, beef up their force by a couple of troopers while Boquist is present. That, the committee members said, should show that the Senate is taking the security concerns of others seriously.
Baumgart had said some Senate members and employees have reported concerns about their safety and that of others, but she did not identify them. Sen. Alan Olsen, one of two Republican committee members, said that concerned him, and that the panel should be able to ask them about their concerns.
Baumgart said a full report would come in a month or two, and it would include who raised concerns. "I think that this type of situation is grave, it is egregious, it is serious, and is one that puts the branch (the Legislature) at risk" if interim measures are not taken, she told the committee.
Boquist made his threats a day before Republican senators began a nine-day walkout on June 20, with the GOP caucus saying the climate bill would harm their rural constituents. The bill aimed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases by capping carbon emissions and requiring businesses to buy or trade for an ever-dwindling pool of pollution "allowances."
The GOP senators returned on the second-to-last day of the legislative session -- with no state police intervention -- after Courtney announced Democrats lacked the votes to pass the climate bill. Olsen defended Boquist, saying that "we sometimes get heated" during debates on the Senate floor. Olsen also said Boquist's "hell" comment to Courtney is protected by the Oregon Constitution because the words were spoken during debate in the Senate.
The Constitution says lawmakers "shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the Legislative Assembly ... Nor shall a member for words uttered in debate in either house, be questioned in any other place."
Boquist's threat against state troopers was made during a TV interview in his office. The Senate special committee on conduct also decided Monday that Boquist will be advised that he must not retaliate against anyone who reports concerns about their safety.
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