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Michigan Senate may not release details of harassment probe

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, file photo, State Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, speaks after a news conference at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. The lawmaker apologized Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, a day after telling a young female reporter that a group of high school boys could "have a lot of fun" with her. Lucido, issued a short statement addressing a story in which a Michigan Advance journalist wrote of an incident that occurred outside the Senate chamber Tuesday. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

LANSING (AP) — The Michigan Senate will not release a report from a pending sexual harassment probe of a male lawmaker who told a young reporter that high school boys visiting the Capitol could have “fun” with her, a spokeswoman for the state Senate’s majority leader said Thursday.

The Legislature is not subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. It releases broad financial records related to harassment investigations, but not much else.

Republican state Sen. Pete Lucido, 59, of Macomb County’s Shelby Township, issued a brief apology for what he called a “misunderstanding” Wednesday after a Michigan Advance journalist published a report detailing their interaction outside the state Senate chamber on Tuesday. Allison Donahue, 22, sought to interview him. He said he could talk after honoring students from De La Salle Collegiate, an all-boys Catholic high school in suburban Detroit from which Lucido graduated.

“You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you,” he reportedly said.

The story prompted legislative leaders to ask the nonpartisan Senate Business Office to open a sexual harassment investigation.

“There’s not a precedent in the Senate for releasing personnel files,” Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, said when asked if the findings would be made public. “The majority leader will allow the investigation to take place before he prescribes and advances any consequences or makes a determination about releasing any information.”

She later clarified that the Senate will communicate the probe’s outcome but not release a report or related documents, citing confidentiality concerns.

Senate rules prohibit the sexual harassment of senators and employees, but they may not explicitly apply to the Lucido incident. However, the rules also require senators to conduct themselves “to justify the confidence placed in him or her by the people and shall, by personal example and admonition to colleagues, maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.”

A senator found to have violated conduct and ethics rules can be reprimanded, censured or expelled by a two-thirds vote of the chamber.

Michigan is one of just two states to wholly exempt both the Legislature and governor’s office from public-records requests. The House voted last year to open up both entities to FOIA requests, but the legislation is stalled in the Senate, where similar bills also died in recent years.

Lucido, who has said he was misquoted, dodged Capitol reporters who tried speaking with him after a legislative hearing Thursday. He earlier told radio station WJR that he invited Donahue to join him and the students on the Senate floor to “have some fun with us” so she might not have to wait long to resume their interview. By “fun,” he said he meant going into the chamber to tell the boys from his alma mater about “government and the way it runs. It’s why I came here.”

“My statement was never directed nor meant to do anything derogatory to anyone,” Lucido said.

Michigan Advance Editor-in-Chief Susan Demas said “we completely stand by our story. Sen. Lucido is the one who keeps changing his story, which shows he lacks credibility. And his attacks on our reporter shows his lack of character.”

In her story published Wednesday, Donahue wrote that Lucido’s comment was “belittling and came from a place of power,” making her feels embarrassed and “small.” After the interview, she said, she told him his comment was unprofessional and that he would not have said it to a male reporter or an older journalist.

Donahue drew praise on social media from former female legislative staffers who said they had been subject to inappropriate comments or worse in the Capitol.

Though Michigan’s open-records exemptions for legislators are among the broadest in the nation, it is not usual for state lawmakers to keep records secret from the public. The #MeToo movement of sexual misconduct complaints has prompted greater openness in some state capitols.

An Associated Press review of statehouse policies found that at least nine state Senate chambers and eight state House chambers had taken steps to increase public disclosure of sexual harassment complaints, or at least statistics about such complaints, since the fall of 2017. Michigan was not one of those. However, Michigan was among the many state legislatures that enhanced training for lawmakers about sexual harassment.

Across the nation, the AP has tallied about 100 state lawmakers who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct or harassment since January 2017, including 38 who have resigned or been expelled from office.