In advance of Sunshine Week, Michiganders deserve more accountability

LANSING, Mich., March 8, 2022 — At a press conference this morning, members of the House Democratic Caucus gathered to urge the legislative majority to take action on bills that would bring more transparency and accountability to state government. Michigan consistently ranks last in the nation on ethics and transparency structures, and House Democrats continue their fight to change that in preparation for Sunshine Week.

“Lansing has operated in the dark for long enough. It’s time to shine a light on the Legislature, and that process starts with highlighting Republican inaction on these common-sense measures,” said House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township). “All we’re asking is to bring Michigan in line with nearly every other state in the union and give citizens true ethics standards and the ability to watch government work.”

At this time last year, the House passed a bipartisan package of 10 bills that would extend open records laws to the governor, lieutenant governor and Legislature. Michigan and Massachusetts are the only two states that exempt both their governor’s office and legislature from the Freedom of Information Act.

“House Democrats have been introducing legislation to expand the public’s access to their state government for 10 years, and for the last three sessions, this package of bills has passed the House unanimously, only to languish in the Senate,” said state Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), a sponsor of one of the bills. “The people of our state deserve to know what their elected officials are doing. If it’s good enough for 48 other states, it’s good enough for Michigan.”

The House of Representatives also passed a package of bills last year that would bring more ethics and accountability to the Legislature. The bipartisan legislation would strengthen Michigan’s conflict of interest laws to require legislators to file personal financial disclosure reports, as members of Congress are already required.

“Once again, Michigan is one of only two states — Idaho being the other — that doesn’t require legislators to disclose their personal finances. Our constituents deserve to know where our interests truly lie,” said state Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids). “I don’t understand the unwillingness to put this into law. Public servants are, and should be, held to a higher standard. Either you’re here in Lansing serving your constituents, or you’re not. It’s that simple.”

After facing another year of Republican stonewalling, House Democrats introduced a resolution to create a Select Committee on Ethics. State law and the Standing Rules of the House allow for the creation of the committee, which would have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats and a co-chair from each party. The committee would investigate public claims of wrongdoing, with an offer of proof, and conduct its investigations openly.

“Even with existing law, we know there is behavior that breaches the public trust but doesn’t rise to the level of criminal prosecution. That’s where this bipartisan committee would come in and ensure the truth is found,” said state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids). “When voters send us to the Capitol, they deserve to know whether we’re serving their interests or our own. We’ve made multiple attempts to tie this resolution to actions that the House is taking, and it has been rejected and voted down every time by House Republicans. We’re not going to stop until House leadership agrees to adopt it.”