Michigan Senate: Don't record, photograph inside lawmakers' offices

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Senate has posted a series of warnings in recent weeks telling members of the public they cannot record or photograph lawmakers or staff inside offices without those individuals' consent.

The notices, including one prominently featured on a stand outside the office of Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, came after a string of incidents that involved people confronting Senate employees inside the Capitol building. They're also another sign of the increased political tension focused on the last presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A notice inside the Michigan Senate Binsfeld Office Building warns against recording employees inside their work areas.

In June, activists who wanted an audit of the 2020 election attempted to get one of Shirkey's staffers to sign a document confirming the receipt of affidavits seeking the review. A few weeks later, a person who goes by the name "Michigan Constitutional Crusader" on YouTube, entered the offices of the secretary of the Senate, walked around and recorded employees on a live video feed.

"If you don't want to be on video, then you need to take a job in the private sector," the person with the video feed told one Senate employee who requested not to be recorded while she worked at her desk.

The person with video feed later told security, "These are our damn offices."

The video showed Senate security explaining to the man that the halls in the Capitol are public but the offices are private. Abby Mitch, Shirkey's spokeswoman, said the new signage was not spurred by an individual incident.

"This has been a longstanding practice of the Senate sergeant-at-arms," Mitch said. "The signage is simply a courtesy to inform people of the policy."

In another "Michigan Constitutional Crusader" video posted on July 3, the person was walking around the Senate Binsfeld Office Building, located across the street from the Capitol, and zoomed in on the computer screen of a Senate employee who was working at her desk.

The sign outside Shirkey's office warns against "occupying any areas in or around a work area in such a manner as to hamper or obstruct the proper use of movement of personnel." Individuals found guilty of violating the policies "are subject to a fine or imprisonment, or both, as provided by the law," the sign says.

A notice outside Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's Capitol office warns against recording or photographing staff members inside their work areas without their permission.

Multiple Democratic lawmakers said they were not aware of individuals walking into Democratic offices and trying to record people without their permission.  Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, accused Shirkey of "hypocrisy," noting that during a protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions at the Michigan Capitol on April 30, 2020, in which dozens of people were armed, the Senate leader ventured into the Senate gallery to talk with demonstrators.

Republicans have not taken the security of the Senate seriously, Moss said.

“If we had a safe and secure Capitol, we wouldn’t have these threats to our offices day in and day out," Moss said.

Asked about the new signage and whether demonstrators had tried to enter his office, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, referenced the attacks former President Donald Trump has leveled this year against Shirkey.

"Nobody calls me a RINO (Republican in Name Only)," Ananich said. "I don't have to worry about it."

cmauger@detroitnews.com