Michigan House again passes bipartisan FOIA reform bills

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

A 10-bill package focused on improving Michigan’s infamously opaque government transparency laws has passed through the state House, with all bills adopted unanimously by Democrats and Republicans alike Thursday.

In 2015, Michigan scored an “F” in the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation and ranked worst in the country for state government accountability and transparency.

Currently, neither the state Legislature, governor’s office or lieutenant governor’s office are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. It’s become a tradition for the House to pass legislation during Sunshine Week, which promotes transparency in government, but previous attempts have not passed the Senate, despite boasting bipartisan support.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) has said since the beginning of the new session that transparency and accountability are a top priority for the legislative body.

“Legislators on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate see the importance of shining sunlight onto Michigan’s records, and I’m confident the time has come to finally get these important laws passed through both chambers and signed by the governor,” Wentworth said in a statement. “One of our top priorities is to regain the trust of the people of the state and this is a strong start. They deserve access to the records of their elected officials, and we intend to give it to them.”

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The House package opens up the executive office to FOIA and creates a new open records law for the Legislature with exceptions.

House Bills 4392 and 4386, sponsored by state Reps. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) and Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), would subject the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices to FOIA requests. 

HB 4383, sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), would create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) to govern public access to information in the state Legislature. HB 4384, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Tisdell (R-Rochester), calls for the appointment of LORA coordinators to receive and process requests.

HBs 4385, 4387 and 4388 — sponsored respectively by state Reps. Annette Glenn (R-Midland), Bryan Posthumus (R-Oakfield Twp.) and Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes) — address fees and procedures for requesting and responding to records under FOIA, and appealing fees or denials of requests to the nonpartisan Legislative Council Administrator.

HBs 4391 and 4389, sponsored by state Reps. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) and Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) provide exemptions for certain records, require the attorney general to advise the state Legislature on the administration of LORA upon request and clarify other details regarding the act’s implementation.

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Finally, HB 4390 sponsored by Rep. Darrin Camilleri, (D-Dearborn) amends the Legislative Council Act by adding a provision allowing the Council Administrator to decide LORA appeals.

All 10 bills were introduced earlier this month and adopted Thursday with 109 yes votes and zero no votes. There are identical bills in the Senate, SB 232 through SB 241.

This week, the liberal group Progress Michigan announced an open records ballot measure for 2022. The organization’s measure would open up both the executive office and the Legislature to FOIA instead of creating the new LORA system.

“We don’t need more lip service to transparency from lawmakers who aren’t willing to back their words up with actions, and we don’t need half-measures like LORA that give the Legislature special treatment instead of holding them to the same standards every other level of government is expected to follow,” said Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott.

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