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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Michigan House bills would subject governor, lawmakers to FOIA, but don't count on it

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 2:43 PM

  • Brian Charles Watson, Wikimedia Creative Commons
  • Michigan State Capitol.

State House lawmakers say they're trying to revive a push to make the governor and Legislature subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

But don’t hold your breath. Nearly every year since 2016, lawmakers have made similar pledges only to let the measures die.

The latest push comes three days after advocates of government transparency said they plan to launch a ballot drive in 2022 to force the governor and Legislature to respond to open-records requests.

Michigan is one of only two states that don’t require the governor’s office or Legislature to turn over public records upon request.

The House Oversight Committee on Thursday reviewed a batch of bills that would make lawmakers and the governor subject to FOIA.

The impetus appears to be the recent revelations that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration entered into secret severance packages with several high-ranking administration officials, including Robert Gordon, the former director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. The administration refuses to disclose details of the tax-funded severances.

"The people in Michigan deserve more transparency in their state government, including their elected officials. I think recent events really highlight the need for some sort of FOIA expansion here in Michigan," Rep. Pat Outman, R-Six Lakes, told The Detroit Free Press.

"Citizens of the state don't exactly trust our elected officials and don't exactly have complete faith in our state government. And we need to take steps to change that. And I think this is a way to begin that process and restore some of the confidence within our state government." 

If lawmakers fail to act, Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group that has been pushing for FOIA reform for nearly a decade, plans to launch a ballot initiative.

“Every year it’s the same story: bills with good intentions that don’t go quite far enough and include ludicrous carve outs for the legislature in an effort to bribe Republicans to support them, slowly die on the vine because of a lack of political will or commitment to real transparency in the legislature,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement Monday.

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