Oregon Capitol Launches Pocket Searches, Use of Metal Detectors | Local

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PETER WONG Oregon Capital Bureau

Oregon will join 33 other states in requiring visitors, elected officials and employees to pass through metal detectors and undergo bag searches when entering the Capitol.

Enhanced security in Salem begins January 27th. Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, the leaders of the Legislature, said in a statement that it will be similar to the procedure for entry into many courthouses. State employees staff court cases, but Oregon’s 36 counties provide courtrooms and security.

The Legislature is responsible for the administration of the Capitol under a 1969 law. The Secretary of State was the former legal administrator of the Capitol and its grounds.

The increased security applies to the two currently open public entrances and two additional entrances for employees and other people with special ID cards. The State Street entrance overlooking Willamette University to the south and the main entrance with its iconic revolving doors are closed for construction.

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The Capitol, the third in Oregon history, opened in October 1938.

The Capitol’s office wings, which opened in 1977 and were renovated in 2008, are undergoing seismic amplification as part of a major building improvement project. The wings house offices for individual legislators.

The Capitol reopened to the public on July 12, 2021 after the conclusion of regular session. It was closed for 16 months after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The added security follows a recent law (Senate Bill 554) that bans firearms, even those carried by gun-licensed persons, from the Capitol.

During the 2021 session, lawmakers banned firearms from the Capitol and the passenger terminal at Portland International Airport as part of broader legislation to require the safekeeping of firearms by their owners. Schools, community colleges and universities have the opportunity to do this by decision of their governing bodies. Opponents failed to submit signatures in an attempt to relegate the law to a national election, so the new law went into effect on September 25. Signs are posted at the public entrances.

Lawmakers acted after some armed anti-lockdown protesters attempted to gain entry to the Capitol during a special session on December 21, 2020, when the Capitol was still closed to the public. Some of them got into an anteroom before the police threw them out; Police later in the day blocked their second attempt at another entry.

Anti-lockdown, pro-Donald Trump protesters also appeared at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — the same day as the U.S. Capitol riot in Washington — but were confined to Capitol Mall across from the Capitol. The Oregon Capitol was closed to all employees, and ground-level windows in the office wings and main building were covered with plywood. The boards were removed a few months later.

On June 10, 2021, the House expelled Rep. Mike Nearman, a four-year-old Republican from Polk County, after Capitol surveillance video showed him opening the antechamber door and allowing protesters to enter the building. He re-entered through another door on the other side. Cellphone video later surfaced of Nearman telling an audience before the session that if he received a text message they might be given access to the Capitol. After that video was released, the 22 other Republicans joined all 37 Democrats in the 59-1 elimination vote, the first since Oregon became a state in 1859.

Nearman pleaded guilty to a count of first-degree misconduct on July 27, but expressed no regrets for his actions during his appearance in Marion County Circuit Court. Prosecutors dropped a second charge of trespassing.

Oregon was one of the few remaining states with relatively open access to its Capitol, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Legislative Administration Committee, the joint House-Senate body that oversees the building and Legislative staff, received surplus metal detectors from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. But they were only used once on the opening day of the 2003 legislature.

The Oregon State Police conducted bag searches on a few other opening days, most notably in January 2011, a few days after shootings in suburban Tucson, Arizona, where then-US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was conducting an event. She was seriously wounded – a year later she gave up her seat and is now a gun control advocate – and she was among 19 people hit; six died, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

There was no specific threat in Oregon.

In 2005, a man broke into the Senate Chamber in the Capitol with a 10-inch knife. Nobody was hurt. The man died later that year, although his death was unrelated to the incident.

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