House bills increase government transparency in governor’s office, Legislature

10-bill bipartisan package celebrates Sunshine Week
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The public will have increased access to Michigan’s executive branch and the state Legislature records through a 10-bill bipartisan package unveiled today by House lawmakers.

State Reps. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) and Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) have sponsored bills to subject the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor to FOIA requirements. Additional legislation in the package will create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA).

“People deserve the right to know how their government operates, how their tax dollars are spent and whether their elected officials are acting in their best interests,” Rep. Moss said. “This common-sense, bipartisan legislation will increase transparency, help the media and the public hold government accountable, and start to rebuild institutional trust that is at an all-time low.”

Rep. McBroom said: “Public access to our state government has been talked about for years, on and off, and a decade ago the Michigan House took that lead by openly posting representatives’ office budgets, all employee salaries and benefits, and other financial information online at the touch of button, no requests or questions necessary. While state representatives have long called for going a step further by subjecting the Legislature to FOIA, there are significant legal obstacles to that proposal, including the Michigan Constitution’s Speech and Debate and Separation of Powers Clauses.

“Now, we’ve really worked to eliminate the constitutional issues that have been in previous proposals while making sure we’re protecting constituents’ information, the constitutional protections for legislators’ speech and debate and privileges.

“This package reflects a deep respect and understanding for our Constitution’s provisions, while also ensuring that the public is receiving the full gamut of transparency that they deserve from their public officials.”

To that end, the package creates the standalone LORA to allow for non-partisan review of disputes by the Legislative Council Administrator. While the provisions of LORA largely mirror FOIA, unlike FOIA it does not require citizens to pay significant court and attorney fees to appeal an unreasonable fee or denial of their request.

Like FOIA, LORA would exempt certain records, including:

  • Personnel records personal in nature, such as human resources files;
  • Records relating to an ongoing internal or legislative investigation, or litigation;
  • All communications with constituents;
  • Advisory communications within the public body or between public bodies;
  • Trade, commercial, or financial records provided confidentially to assist in public policy;
  • Communications regarding Legislative Services Bureau bill drafting, sergeant-at-arms security issues and auditor general records; and
  • Records exclusively maintained by legislative caucuses.

The parts of the package that subject the governor to FOIA are House Bills 5477 and 5478, sponsored by Reps. Moss and McBroom, respectively. The bills creating LORA are HBs 5469-5476, introduced by Reps. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville),  John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw), Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti) and Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance), all of whom attended today’s news conference for the announcement.

“We’ve all been working hard on this for over a year now, but it really started to come together about four months ago with a lot of research from around the country,” Rep. McBroom said. “We’ve heard about this from other elected officials all over the state – mayors, city councilmen, county administrators all saying our offices are subject to this, why is it that the state is not? We certainly see other states in the nation have already done this, so we’re not ploughing new ground here. I think it’s time Michigan move forward with this.”

HBs 5469-5479 are expected to be introduced in the House tomorrow.