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Michigan’s first day of legislature gets off on a tense note

The Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing
The Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing

The new legislative session in Michigan began Wednesday with political tensions high over the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the certification of the presidential election and continued coronavirus restrictions.

Since the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., by supporters of President Donald Trump, the FBI has warned of plans by radicals to attack statehouses nationwide, including in Michigan, which on Monday banned open carry of firearms inside the building.

New House Speaker Jason Wentworth said during a news conference that he denounces violence but supports the people’s First Amendment right to peaceful protest.

House Minority Leader Rep. Donna Lasinski recently wrote to Wentworth asking him to discipline and not seat 18 Republican legislators who rejected the legitimacy of the presidential election, saying they had stoked the fires of violence. Wentworth said that although he doesn’t agree with Lasinski, he would continue to have conversations across the aisle.

Democrats in the Senate also tore into their Republican colleagues over the lack of disciplinary action taken against legislators who tried to legitimize false claims of fraud in the election, as well as those who promoted violent rhetoric that led to the insurrection.

Democrat Sen. Mallory McMorrow said validating the president’s lie that the election was stolen opens the door to validating the lies and conspiracy theories of QAnon and rhetoric that leads to violence.

“If we validate that lie. If we say that the election was stolen. Then it validates the reality for people that the government is actually run by a Satanist cabal of pedophiles. That Donald Trump is the only one who is sent from God to stop that and that the election was stolen from him,” McMorrow said. “They don’t care if we’re Democrats or Republicans, they will overthrow the government to save Donald Trump.”

Republican state Sens. John Bizon, Tom Barrett, Kim LaSata, Roger Victory, Dale Zorn, Lana Theis, Kevin Daley, Dan Lauwers, Curtis Vanderwall and Jim Runestad signed a letter in early January to Congress and the Vice President to investigate fraud in the election. Their Democratic counterparts introduced resolutions to condemn and recognize false claims of election fraud and those who signed the letter as contributors to violence.

Earlier, Wentworth suggested that more could be done to hold elected officials accountable for their missteps.

“Anything that improves the transparency and accountability of government is on the table,” he said.

Michigan has had some of the strictest coronavirus restrictions in the country, which is a point of contention for many Republicans. Wentworth said the governor keeps setting “arbitrary” dates for lifting restrictions then switching things up to the detriment of local businesses.

Caution in reopening parts of the economy has saved lives, Whitmer insisted during a public update on COVID-19. She did not directly address Wentworth's comments.

Wentworth also said he would introduce a House resolution that will require a two-thirds vote on bills introduced during the period after Election Day, known as a lame duck session. He said the measure aims to make the process more trustworthy and remove some of the negativity that can surround lame duck bills.

Speaker Pro-Tempore Pamela Hornberger joined Wentworth in announcing legislation that would prohibit representatives from voting on bills in which they or their family members stand to gain, to remove any perceived conflict of interest.

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.