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Oregon State Capitol

With January's ceremonial start of the year out of the way, both Congress and the Oregon Legislature have moved on to sometimes turbulent issues, including disciplinary action against their own members.

Bentz backs Cheney

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, has confirmed he backed U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, in a secret GOP vote on Feb. 4 to decide if she should retain her position as House Republican Conference Chair.

Cheney was one of just 10 House Republicans to vote Jan. 13 for impeachment of then-President Donald Trump on the charge of "incitement of insurrection" for agitating a mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, resulting in five deaths and injuring over 140 police officers.

The impeachment, the equivalent of an indictment, passed 232-197. The trial of Trump, now out of office, begins this week.

Angry Trump loyalists wanted Cheney removed from the No. 3 post in House GOP leadership. But she won the conference vote 145-61. Cheney, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, did not back down from her vote.

Asked about the conference challenge, Cheney said on Fox News Sunday thst she had no apologies.

"The oath that I took to the Constitution compelled me to vote for impeachment and it doesn't bend to partisanship, it doesn't bend to political pressure," she said. "It's the most important oath that we take."

During a break in the debate, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had signaled that he backed Cheney.

"Liz has the right to vote her conscience," McCarthy said. "At the end of the day, we'll get united."

Bentz said late Friday that though he opposed impeachment, he backed retaining Cheney after she told the conference her vote was an individual choice, not as a party leader reflecting the GOP consensus on the issue.

The tally was secret, but members were free to make public how they voted.

Hernandez expulsion vote possible Feb. 16

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland said Monday that Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, would likely face a Feb. 16 vote to expel him from the House.

Five women have accused Hernandez of using his position as a state lawmaker to sexually harass them. The House Conduct Committee voted 4-0 last Friday to sustain 18 findings of violation of House rules.

As of Monday, Gov. Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, Kotek and 26 of 37 House Democrats have called on Hernandez to resign, which he has refused to do. The Feb. 16 vote would require votes of two-thirds of the House — 40 members — to expel him. Hernandez was seen as a potential political star when he was elected to the House in 2016 at age 29. 

Salem security under discussion

The plywood boards that covered the lower level windows of the Oregon Capitol in case of violent demonstrations around the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., are being removed.

The boards were put up after a Department of Homeland Security alert to states that right-wing groups that back Trump might attack state capitols. The Oregon Capitol was assaulted by groups on Dec. 21 during a special session of the Legislature. They used lower level side doors and windows in an attempt to enter the rotunda area. After fighting with state police, they were ejected.

Hardware is being installed to make it easier and faster to put up the boards if necessary in the future.

Nearman investigation continues

The Marion County District Attorney's office has been sent the Oregon State Police investigative report on the alleged role of Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, in aiding the Dec. 21 rioters to enter the Capitol, Kotek said Monday.

Security video shows Nearman exiting a locked side door of the Capitol during the demonstration outside, which remained open and was soon used by rioters to get into the building.

Kotek said any action against Nearman by the House would most likely await the decision of the district attorney's office on whether to prosecute.  

Unemployment, right-wing threats top Fagan agenda

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, elected last November, released her 2021-22 Audit Plan last week. One of the office's jobs is to internally investigate the performance of state agencies.

“This year’s audit plan is directed at many of those most pressing issues with an eye toward building a better Oregon for everyone,” Fagan said in a statement. Planned audits include:

• An analysis of Oregon’s Unemployment Insurance Program's chaotic performance during a historic rise in unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The audit would identify ways that the months-long wait for benefits would not happen during a future crisis.

• Emergency response issues during the 2020 wildfires.

• Oregon's COVID-19 vaccine distribution program, which has been criticized for its pace and priorities.

• Contamination risks of rural water supplies.

• Oregon law enforcement's handling of violent domestic terrorist groups that have included violent attacks at the Oregon State Capitol.

• Fairness of licensing and regulation of legal cannabis business. 

• The performance of state and local 911 emergency calling systems.

• Cybersecurity at state agencies and local governments, some of which use antiquated systems.

• Mortgage interest deduction and its relationship to impacts on homeless services.

To view the full 2021-22 audit plan, click here https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2021R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/230571  

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