FOIA expansion, pension tax repeal among 1st House bills introduced

Lee Chatfield addresses the Michigan House on the first day of session, Jan. 9, 2019 | NIck Manes

As the Michigan Legislature convened its 100th session on Wednesday, House members introduced bills improving government transparency, repealing the pension tax and banning minors both from getting married and buying vaping paraphernalia.

The Advance reported that the first bills presented in the House would reform the state’s process of seizing private property in criminal cases. The legislation drew a broad coalition of support, including House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Another bipartisan package of bills introduced Wednesday would subject the state’s Legislature and and governor’s office to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Similar legislation passed the House last term, only to die in the Senate.

State Reps. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City) and Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw), who sponsored bills, said the legislation will help bring sunshine to the state. Michigan is frequently called the least transparent state in the country, having earned an ‘F’ from the Center for Public Integrity.

“Michigan has ranked dead last in the nation for transparency and accountability for a while now, and we’re determined to change that,” Guerra said in a statement. “This package — and the bipartisan way it was developed — sends a clear message to the people of Michigan that the era of complacency in government is over. Democracy should belong to the people, and this legislation is another opportunity for us to prove that.”

Chatfield hinted at the idea of FOIA reform in his speech on the floor prior to the bills’ introduction.

“It is well past time we turn the page and begin a new chapter of accountability and openness to the people we serve,” Chatfield said. “The people have the right to know the truth about what their government is doing, and we have the responsibility to tell them the truth.”

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has previously expressed support for opening up her office to records requests. She continued her bipartisan “bridge-building” theme from her inauguration in a congratulatory tweet today to members of the new Legislature.

However, the position of new Senate Majority Leader (R-Clarklake) is reportedly less clear.

Also introduced on the first session day was HB 4008 to eliminate the state’s pension tax, which has been one of the least-popular parts of GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2011 tax overhaul.

Rick Snyder

“Michigan should not be balancing its state government budget on the backs of seniors,” said bill sponsor Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe). “They worked hard for decades with the expectation their retirement income would not be taxed, but the rules were changed on them in the middle of the game. This new legislation sets things right by getting rid of the pension tax.”

Another notable bill introduced by Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), HB 4003, would outlaw minors from getting married. Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine) sponsored HB 4017 that prohibits the sale of vaping products to minors.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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