Local lawmakers have mixed views on Inauguration Day safety concerns at state capitols

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Picture of full Kansas Capitol during winter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — How concerned are Missouri and Kansas lawmakers about the FBI’s warning of potential armed demonstrations at state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s Inauguration on Wednesday? 

While lawmakers on both sides of the state line applaud capitol police, some are worried about their safety and the welfare of statehouse employees. 

“I am concerned for the safety and wellbeing of all folks in the statehouse,” said Missouri State Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat who represents KC’s Northland. “I want to believe it’s unlikely that armed Missourians will commit violence against our state Capitol and those who work there. But I never imagined I would see rioters storm the U.S. Capitol, so we must prepare for anything.”

“I think it’s important that we take these threats seriously,” she added.

Missouri State Sen. John Rizzo agreed. 

“Our nation is still reeling from the events of Jan. 6 where we witnessed treason and destruction at the hands of domestic terrorists – too many of whom remain at large,” said Rizzo, a Democrat who represents Independence and other portions of Jackson County. “While I have the utmost faith in our Capitol Police, following the warnings of the FBI and others, I remain concerned for the security and wellbeing of everyone who works inside the Missouri Capitol.” 

He added: “While I am an elected official, first and foremost I am a husband and father. I’d be lying if I said my wife and family aren’t worried.” 

Missouri State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, however, doesn’t share those safety concerns. 

“I do not feel unsafe at the Capitol,” said Luetkemeyer, a Republican whose district includes Platte and Buchanan counties. “The capitol police, in coordination with several state and local law-enforcement agencies, have increased police presence this week to ensure that we can safely conduct legislative business for the people Missouri.” 

Rizzo and Arthur echo his praise for Capitol Police. 

“I trust that the Capitol Police are continuing to take any and all threats seriously and will take whatever action is necessary to keep people safe,” Rizzo told FOX4. 

Arthur added: “Capitol Police requested assistance from different agencies, including Highway Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources. I’ve already noticed an enhanced police presence, and I’m grateful for their efforts and diligence.” 

Arthur said the Missouri Senate is in session on Wednesday. The Missouri House, however, canceled this week because of a COVID-19 outbreak, she said. 

In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly announced plans last week to limit access to the statehouse. The Capitol is closed to the public but open to those with specific business in the building. 

Kelly also closed the State Office Buildings in the Capitol Complex on Tuesday and Wednesday.  

“The safety and wellbeing of our employees is my top priority,” Kelly said in a statement issued Monday night. “These steps are taken out of an abundance of caution – and I thank all employees for their patience and understanding during this time.” 

FOX4 also learned that a COVID-19 scare prompted the Senate President’s Office to suspend its roll call Tuesday. 

“A Senate clerk was tested Friday for COVID-19 with results coming back positive,” according to a text that office sent Monday night. “Due to this development, the roll call will be suspended tomorrow Tuesday January 19th. All senators will be marked present.”

The message added: “We are asking all senators to refrain from coming to the floor. Wednesday January 20th the Senate will be Pro-Forma.” 

The text also requested senators and staffers to reschedule meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. 

“Furthermore, in consultation with the Governor’s Office and Capitol Police, we are asking for folks not needing to be in the Statehouse Tuesday and Wednesday to reschedule for another date,” the message said. “We’ve asked Senate Chairs to reschedule committee business Tuesday and Wednesday if they have business informal in nature.” 

The Senate Health Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee took place Tuesday, according to the text. 

“All others have rescheduled tomorrow’s business,” the text said. “On Thursday, most Senate committees will meet and the Senate plans to take-up business on the floor.”

“Please plan to be in Topeka on Thursday,” the message added. 

Kansas State Sen. Molly Baumgardner told FOX4 she’ll be at the Topeka Capitol for committee meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. 

“I’ve received no communication that we’re not doing some things because of threats,” she told FOX4 Monday night. “And I have received notification that several meetings set for tomorrow are still scheduled.” 

She added: “We will not be gaveling in as a group on the floor Tuesday or Wednesday for several reasons. One is we had an individual (in the senate staff) who tested positive for COVID-19. We also just started our session two weeks ago, and we still have bills that have to get out of committee first. We have no bills tomorrow or Wednesday (to debate).” 

Asked if she’s concerned for her safety in the wake of the FBI’s warnings, the Republican senator from Louisburg said: “I personally am not worried. I feel safe in Topeka.” 

“We’ve had protests at the statehouse during my now seventh year here,” she added. “They’ve gotten loud in volume and some have occurred in the Senate chambers. But they’ve always been peaceful.”

Baumgardner said some people peacefully protested in Topeka on Jan. 6 – the same day armed rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. 

“Everyone was polite outside the Capitol here,” she said. “At one point, they moved inside the Capitol, and they were still calm.” 

“Kansans are law abiding folks,” she added.  

Kansas State Sen. David Haley said he’s not concerned for his safety, either. 

“I feel safe (at the statehouse) because of the Capitol Police and the measures they’ve taken,” said Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas. “I feel that we are well staffed, and we have excellent security.” 

Haley, however, said he’s meeting virtually because of COVID-19 concerns – concerns he said are not shared by all of his colleagues in Topeka. 

“We’re a conservative legislature that does not take COVID as seriously as many of us would prefer,” he said. “COVID was cited as one of the reasons (we’re not meeting today or Wednesday). But, in my opinion, I think we’re not meeting due to the national noise.”

“The people in leadership in Kansas do not take COVID and COVID-19 protocols seriously enough to disrupt this session,” he added. “That’s a secondary concern.” 

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