Democratic Sponsors of FOIA-Strengthening Bills Hail Their Passage

Proposals would bring Legislature, governor’s office under FOIA laws
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

LANSING — State Representatives Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti) and Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) praised the Michigan House of Representatives for passing a package of bills they sponsored aimed at expanding and strengthening the state’s Freedom of Information Act laws. House Bills 5469-5478 would subject the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices to FOIA laws and create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA).

“Being transparent in government on the frontend is easier in the long run because it removes all doubts,” Rep. Moss said. “This package of bills carefully balances the public’s right to know while at the same respecting the privacy of constituents who want to confidentially share a personal issue or concern with their state Legislator. It’s time to apply transparency laws to how we conduct business here in the Legislature and how the governor conducts business in his office.”

The package creates a 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.

 “These are common-sense proposals that the people of Michigan have been demanding,” Rep. Rutledge said. “For too long, the upper levels of Michigan’s government have exempted themselves from the scrutiny applied to local government and other state departments. It’s time for that to change.”

Michigan is currently one of just two states that exempt its governor and Legislature from FOIA laws. In recent months, those FOIA exemptions have come under intense scrutiny because of the Flint water crisis. While the governor released documents from his office related to Flint, he was under no obligation to do so, and it’s impossible to know whether all documents related to Flint were made public.

“These bills demonstrate what can happen when Republicans and Democrats work together to address problems facing our state,” Rep. Guerra said. “FOIA laws are essential for a democracy to operate openly and transparently. I’m hopeful that the Senate will take up these bills in the same bipartisan spirit we saw in the House and pass them into law.”