Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas
In the latest attempt to bring “sunshine” to state government, members of the Michigan Senate have introduced a bipartisan set of bills that would bring the state Legislature and the governor’s office into compliance with the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Under the 1976 law, the governor and state lawmakers are exempt from records requests. The exemption has drawn criticism from individuals like Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and contributed to the state’s “F” rating for government integrity in a 2015 report from the Center For Public Integrity, where Michigan ranked last.
The bills’ sponsors, Sens. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), have worked together on bills to improve government transparency since their time serving in the House. Although FOIA reform has passed the House in recent sessions, it has never made it through the Senate.
The bills were introduced Thursday, the last session day of voting for the year. Some Republicans have criticized Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in about four decades, for slow-walking reforms.
According to a statement, these bills — Senate Bills 669 and 670 — differ from previous efforts by including the Legislature in the Freedom of Information Act rather than creating a separate act for the House and Senate. These bills were also crafted with input from Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and the Senate Business Office.
“The public is denied access to the records in the Governor’s office and State Legislature and this lack of transparency laws breeds distrust in state government,” said Moss, who chairs the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee.
“At a time when faith in government institutions is at a historic low — in Michigan and across the nation — it is critical for our state to shine greater light on the actions of officeholders. We must expand the Freedom of Information Act to include lawmakers and the governor,” Moss said.
McBroom, who has worked on the issue since 2011, said these bills, once adopted, would help to rebuild the trust citizens need to have in their state government.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spokesperson Stacy LaRouche previously told the Advance the governor was looking forward to the Legislature making progress on bills promoting transparency and accountability in government.
While campaigning before her first term, Whitmer said she would expand FOIA to the governor and lieutenant governor if the legislature didn’t act on the issue. However after nearly five years, Whitmer has yet to extend FOIA to her office.
House Republicans also introduced a slate of bills in March expanding FOIA to the governor and the Legislature, creating constitutionally required financial forms for lawmakers, barring lawmakers from voting when it could benefit them or their immediate family, and preventing lawmakers from becoming lobbyists until two years after the end of their term.
The package went untouched this year by Democratic leadership in the House.
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