State Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) said he was told by a hospital that he could not host a coffee hour earlier in January, and he wasn’t happy about it.
On Thursday, he made his case on legislation to the Senate Local Government Committee that he said would bar county-owned facilities from denying lawmakers from holding such meetings.
“Everyone has a First Amendment right to speak. Stifle the elected officials right to speak and what have you done? You’ve created chaos within your community,” Lucido said.
Senate Bill 719 would allow state elected officials to place non-political information, including booklets and coffee hour notices in local government offices. However, according to a nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency analysis, the bill does not say that meetings are required to be held there.
Lucido said his office received an email from Martha T. Berry Hospital, a Macomb County government-owned facility in Mt. Clemens, less than 24 hours before his meeting, saying he would not be allowed to hold it there. He said the hospital has hosted two of his coffee hours before without issue.
A representative from the office of Democratic County Executive Mark Hackel’s office told the Macomb Daily that Lucido’s event was political, based on emails sent to residents, and therefore could not be held on county-owned property.
The intent of the coffee hour was to gain input from constituents that “can’t come out” because they are bedridden or in wheelchairs, Lucido said. The lawmaker moved his meeting to a local McDonald’s.
Lucido’s coffee hour dispute came shortly after his sexist comments to a Michigan Advance reporter Allison Donahue on Jan. 15 garnered national attention. Donahue’s story inspired two more women to come forward about their stories of Lucido’s harassment, state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) and Melissa Osborn, who works for the Michigan Credit Union League.
The Michigan Senate Business Office is conducting an investigation into Lucido.
The “vast majority of counties” don’t have problems with elected officials holding meetings at their facilities as long as they have the space and their policies are met by visitors, Michigan Association of Counties lobbyist Deena Bosworth testified.
“I don’t think this is a statewide problem,” Bosworth said. “I’m not quite sure why we need a state law and there must be other remedies other than putting in a statute facilities have to meet.”
Lucido argued the bill is necessary to clarify what county-owned facilities must allow.
If the Legislature decided that a law is necessary, Bosworth said there needs to be guardrails on how many or what kinds of elected officials can place materials in facilities. There have to be restrictions on how it is displayed and how much, otherwise she said problems arise in facility lobbies.
As a former township supervisor for Arcadia Township, GOP state Sen. Kevin Daley said he can understand a facility’s apprehension to host what they feel is political materials.
“If somebody came in and said they wanted to put their own rack at our facility and fill it with their stuff, I would probably tell them ‘no’ as well,” Daley said.
Lucido said his coffee hours and the pamphlets he places at facilities are informational, not political.
State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said when he was a staffer to a state representative about a decade ago, a similar situation happened at a senior facility, which said the event was political. But the legislator’s office talked to the facility’s administration and it was resolved.
Moss asked Lucido if he is trying to remedy the situation or explain that the coffee hour is not a political event. Lucido said he doesn’t understand why the facility thinks it’s a political event.
“I’m willing to work any way shape or form, but I will not be denied because if it goes to a lawsuit on something like this. It’s a shame,” Lucido said.
“I’m kind of at a loss here,” Moss said. “I feel like you can just tell them it’s not a political rally and then they have to allow you in and we don’t need a law to say that.”
Committee Chair Dale Zorn (R-Ida) said the panel is requesting an opinion on First Amendment issues. The committee didn’t vote on the legislation Thursday.
County officials will be invited to an upcoming meeting to hear Lucido’s position, Zorn said.