Legislation to subject Michigan's governor and legislature to the state's Freedom of Information Act could drop as soon as next month, say lawmakers working on the plan.
"I've been working on this project now for over a year and hopefully going to roll it out during Sunshine Week in March," said Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.
Michigan's current FOIA law, which allows the public to access documents from public bodies, specifically exempts the governor. In addition, a 1986 Attorney General's opinion exempts state legislators. These factors recently contributed to Michigan ranking dead last in the nation for transparency.
Lawmakers in the minority have proposed reforms to FOIA in the past. In 2015, then-Rep. Brandon Dillon, who now chairs the Michigan Democratic Party, championed legislation that would have opened up the legislature and governor's office to FOIA.
But with McBroom, a member of the majority Republican party, the effort could have new legs in the legislature.
"This is a good government reform. It doesn't have to be a partisan issue on either side of the aisle. No matter who is governor, no matter who serves in the state legislature, we're all public servants and we should all be bound by the same rules that we mandate local governments to follow," said Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who worked on last year's FOIA expansion bills.
McBroom is hopeful he can pick up support among fellow Republicans. He said that while amending the governor's exemption is pretty straightforward, applying FOIA to the legislature is a little more difficult.
"I think members are very likely open conceptually to it, it's just when you work out the nitty gritty, how does this impact the daily routine... that's when people kind of start to get a little uncomfortable about just how much extra work does this really end up being," McBroom said.
Moss and McBroom will likely have to win over House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, on the legislation to see real movement. Asked about last year's legislation in October, Cotter said he had concerns and noted that when the House released information on former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat they accidentally included sensitive information.
Moss and McBroom envision a FOIA coordinator who would make sure mistakes like that don't happen.
Asked about opening the governor's office up to FOIA at a press event last week, Snyder demurred on the specific question said he wanted to look at transparency more broadly.
"I would like to look at the bigger question of transparency, not just talking about FOIA but are there other things we can do on the broader topic because again, we don't get ranked very high. And actually we're starting to do some good analysis on best practice in other states," Snyder said. "To put it in perspective that's something that I normally would have added in my state of the state address, but I wanted to talk about Flint."
Moss and McBroom plan to formally introduce the legislation as early as next month.