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Projects, security mark priorities for Capitol Commission

Protesters at the entrance of Michigan State capitol with right-wing flags and guns.
Matt Schmucker
The State News
Protesters at the entrance of Michigan State capitol with right-wing flags and guns.

The group that oversees Michigan’s state capitol building says new security measures could be coming.

The Capitol Commission met Monday for the first time since four new members joined the board. During the meeting, commissioners mainly discussed maintenance projects, scheduling, and staffing.

One of those new projects that visitors may notice involves touching up the higher levels of the Capitol dome. That includes cleaning paintings of the nine Greek muses that overlook the rotunda.

“Those haven’t been touched or cleaned in 25 or 30 years so getting back up and treating those is pretty exciting and it’s a pretty big deal too,” commission Executive Director Robert Blackshaw said.

Blackshaw said he expects scaffolding for the project to go up this summer and stay up for possibly nine months.

After Monday’s meeting, members confirmed talks about new measures to make the building safer are underway.

Capitol Commission Chair Bill Kandler said one idea floated was the possible addition of metal detectors.

“I don’t think anybody likes the idea but everybody’s aware that’s something we may have to consider. The political environment here has just changed. It’s a whole concept of political violence is something that we always thought we’d read about in banana republics around the world. And now we’re experiencing it here. We’re a bad example for the world now,” Kandler said.

In 2020, protesters brought long guns into the state Capitol. The next year, the commission voted to ban the open carry of firearms there but continued to allow concealed weapons with a license.

Some elected officials had pushed the non-partisan commission to go further with a total firearm ban but members agreed to compromise for a unanimous vote.

Logistics concerns of how to realistically monitor what’s being taken in and out of the Capitol while also keeping the building open have been a constant worry in the conversation.

“One of the questions is just how do you design a system? How does it work? How many people per hour can you get in and out and are people going to be lined up to get in and out? What kind of technology [do] you use? How many doors and entrances you want to leave open for people to get in and out? So, it’s kind of complex,” Kandler said.

At the time of the compromise, the commission was made up of two appointees by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with the Republican-nominated Secretary of the Senate and House Clerk, and two of their own picks.

Since Democrats won control of the state Legislature in November, two-thirds of the commission’s makeup has changed.

One new member is Tim Bowlin, who previously served as the commission’s chief financial officer and project manager.

He said “any security issue” will be on the table.

“It’s a matter of cost. It’s a matter of functionality. It’s about providing the visitors and the tenants of this building a secure and safe environment. When you put millions of dollars into the building, you also want to protect the building as well,” Bowlin said.

Lawmakers could also pass a bill outlining any new measures, including a total ban of firearms from the Capitol.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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