MI lawmakers prepare to return during safety concerns

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Amid threats of protests, state lawmakers are preparing to head back to the Capitol on Wednesday. 

After a protest turned into a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last week, the Michigan Capitol Commission voted unanimously to ban open carry inside the building. As the FBI warns similar demonstrations may be underway in the coming weeks, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued guidance that the Capitol remains unsafe. 

Currently, concealed carry is still permitted at the Capitol. People are also still allowed to carry weapons on Capitol grounds. Even still, state lawmakers are set to begin session Wednesday afternoon. 

“I’ve directed my staff to stay out of the building as much as possible,” said State Rep. Rachel Hood of Grand Rapids. 

Hood says despite the steps taken by the Capitol Commission, she’s still concerned about what protests will bring. She says she hopes it’s not reminiscent of what the state of Michigan saw last April as armed protestors stormed the Michigan Capitol building upset by the governor’s COVID-19 response.

“You see the images, we felt the floor reverberating, the windows shaking around us and knew that these people were just feet away from us with one line of law enforcement between them,” Hood said as she recalled the April afternoon. 

State Sen. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids says she doesn’t believe the open carry bans go far enough. 

“We know that there are folks who have been radicalized and acting on things that they believe to be true that there simply is no evidence for,’ Brinks said. 

Brinks says she would like to see a law passed that further protects those working in the Capitol. 

“This is a place in which we should be able to do our work completely unhindered by the intimidation that comes with folks who are carrying weapons,” Brinks added. 

Republican State Rep. Tommy Brann says while some lawmakers have concerns, he’s confident there are enough security measures in place to head back to work. 

“I’ve got to get back to work to represent my 90,000 constituents,” Brann said.” It’s about time I get back to work. I should go back no matter what working conditions there are. It’s my job to be there.” 

Brann, who represents Wyoming, owns a restaurant there. He says dealing with difficult situations in his business have not only toughened him up for the House of Representatives but introduced him to people who inspire him to keep showing up. 

“Some of my constituents are doctors, nurses and teachers. They’re bravely going to work, so there’s no excuse for me not to be there. If there’s a crowd there, I’ll just, if I have to, shove a couple people aside, but I’m going to go in there and do my job,” Brann said.

Brann says he hopes his colleagues will have the same confidence as the weeks go on. 

“I don’t want to see them be fearful. I believe a lot of my colleagues are strong enough to be there. I know I’ll be strong enough to be there,” Brann said.

The city of Lansing has already started to prepare for any potential unrest. Tuesday, the mayor wrote a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, asking her to be ready to deploy the National Guard should violence break out. Some members of the Lansing City Council say they stand behind the mayor’s statement and want to be as prepared as possible. 

“I watched the events that happened in Washington D.C., just horrified and stunned. My next thought was that this could happen here, we’re a state Capitol,” said Peter Spadafore who serves as the Lansing City Council president. 

“We saw the dress rehearsal. We saw the folks that have been arrested already on conspiracy charges against our state officials. We need to ensure that if those demonstrations come to Lansing, they stay peaceful and our citizens are safe,” Spadafore added.

The Michigan State Police says they can’t give exact details about their plan, but they are increasing their presence at the Capitol over the next few weeks. The governor’s office says they are monitoring the situation closely. 

Local leaders say while they respect everyone’s right to protest, their main goal is to make sure it’s being done safely. 

“Stay away from the Capitol on the days we know things are going to happen. I understand that there may be a desire to counter-protest, now is not the time for that,” Spadafore said. 

Session begins Wednesday at noon. Due to COVID restrictions, the Capitol is not open to the public. The city of Lansing says they’re most concerned about protests this Sunday and on Inauguration Day but will be prepared for any security threats. 

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