- Associated Press - Friday, July 8, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Three Oregon lawmakers have avoided a possible state investigation into whether they knowingly misled their colleagues earlier this year in Salem about the intent of House Bill 4040, the controversial so-called wolf delisting bill.

The discord stems from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s November delisting of the gray wolf as endangered and the Legislature’s subsequent creation of HB 4040 to block wildlife advocates’ lawsuit against the state. The lawsuit, which asks for a judicial review of the delisting decision, was reinstated this week after being dismissed in April on grounds of mootness by HB 4040.

State Reps. Sal Esquivel, Greg Barreto and Brad Witt initially told their House colleagues in February that the bill - which upholds the delisting decision into state law - would not, nor was it intended to, impact any litigation or request for review. The discussion changed when the bill advanced to the Senate, where lawmakers openly debated their potential meddling in legal matters.

The case was dismissed on grounds of mootness by HB 4040 in April - but was reinstated on Tuesday - and Eugene-based plaintiff Cascadia Wildlands filed complaints the next month with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission against the three lawmakers for their statements. The group says they broke a state ethics law banning lobbyists and public officials from knowingly making false or misleading statements to other public officials.

The law falls under the ethics commission’s jurisdiction, except when it comes to lawmakers, who can only be held accountable by other lawmakers, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. This special exclusion for state legislators is found in the Oregon Constitution, which says felonies, treason and breaches of peace are the only exceptions.



On July 1 the complaints were dismissed without review of the allegations’ merits, Ron Bersin, the commission’s executive director, told AP.

“Apparently the Oregon Constitution permits legislators to lie with impunity to their colleagues and the public in order to pass legislation,” Nick Cady, attorney for Cascadia Wildlands, told AP. “Hopefully, Oregon will take action to correct this state of dysfunction in our Legislature.”

Witt, a Democrat, did not respond for comment, although he’s previously denied any wrongdoing.

Republicans Esquivel and Barreto issued a joint statement to AP, calling the complaints an “attention-seeking stunt, and one that has no place in our political process. We are pleased that these frivolous complaints have been promptly dismissed and that this matter has been put to rest.”

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