State Sen. Dallas Heard was removed from the Senate floor at the end of Monday’s special legislative session because he was not wearing a mask.
The Senate held the one-day session primarily to approve relief funds for renters and landlords during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Public health officials have repeatedly said a mask helps protect the wearer and others around them from the COVID-19 virus, and mask-wearing on the Senate floor is required under Senate rules.
But Heard has bucked that system, arguing mask-wearing should be an individual’s choice.
Sometimes he has sat in the gallery above, far from other senators. On Monday, he said, he watched the session on video in a room just outside the floor and popped inside as needed to vote on bills, holding a thumb up or down.
Then at the end of the session, Heard went to his desk on the floor for the final vote to adjourn.
Senate President Peter Courtney repeatedly asked Heard to don a mask before having him escorted off the floor.
“You know you don’t have a mask on, you’re supposed to have a mask on, so why don’t you get up and tell us what you want, and then I’m going to ask you to leave the floor please Senator Heard,” Courtney said.
“Simply put, I’m just exercising the rights of the free people of Oregon,” Heard responded.
Courtney asked again for Heard to put on a mask, and Heard said he didn’t have one. Courtney asked him to leave the floor.
“You challenge me because we can go through a whole ritual to expel you,” Courtney said.
Courtney said a lot of people had worked hard and come a long way and he didn’t want to hold them up any longer.
“But I must tell you this is something that makes me sad, very sad Dallas,” he said. “If this continues, and it applies to all of us, including me, assuming the mask mandate still exists we will have to move against individuals who don’t wear a mask.”
After another exchange, he asked Heard again to mask up or leave the chamber.
“The people of Senate District 1 elected me to represent them on this floor at this desk, so no I will not leave,” Heard said.
Courtney then called the roll, and after the vote read the mask rules.
He said Heard was in violation of the rules and will “therefore not be granted access to the Senate floor, chamber, or Capitol buildings until you are in compliance with the rule.”
He then asked the Sergeant of Arms to escort Heard out.
Heard told The News-Review Tuesday the Senate’s mask rule is a “direct violation of fundamental rights.”
“I don’t feel compelled to follow rules that I believe violate my rights and others’,” he said.
Unless he’s on the floor, he said, he has no microphone to speak, and that means his constituents’ voice is restricted.
“At the end of the day I decided it was time for my people to have me back at my desk to where I could speak on the floor if I so chose,” he said.
Heard said he believes mask rules and shutdowns have contributed to an increase in suicide in teens and young adults, among whom there have been comparatively few COVID-19 deaths.
Heard also accused the Democrats of hypocrisy, saying they often stand close together or hug each other in violation of the rules. He also cited recent reports and photographs taken of the governor and the speaker of the House, both Democrats, attending a Washington, D.C. gala without wearing masks.
They seem to think the rules don’t apply to them, he said.
“I don’t fear any virus as much as I fear people who have too much power,” Heard said.