Michigan House members introduce new public records proposal

 

Michigan House members on Wednesday introduced a public records proposal they say will increase transparency.

The package of bills would subject the governor and lawmakers to public records requests. It is a new attempt to get legislation to the governor's desk after similar bills won overwhelming approval in the Republican-led House last year only to die in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The bipartisan proposal's lead sponsors are state Reps. Lee Chatfield, a Republican from Levering, and Jeremy Moss, a Democrat from Southfield.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said he had concerns with last year's bills dealing with constituents' communications with lawmakers becoming public. Chatfield and Moss say they believe the bills address those concerns.

The legislation gained momentum last year in the wake of Flint's water crisis and a sex scandal that forced two legislators from office.

House Democratic Leader Sam Singh also referenced the failing grade Michigan received in 2015 from the Center for Public Integrity, which ranked the state last.

"We have these kind of ethical standards that we have all across the country, I'd like to see those happen here in Michigan," Singh said.

Chatfield said the new bills are the same as those introduced last year with the exception of a few date changes. Moss said all parameters of the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, so that all legislators coming into the new session would know how exactly their office must comply with the new bills.

Even if the proposed Legislative Open Records Act is passed, Moss said expanding the Freedom of Information Act today would not increase the state's ranking on ethics in the country overnight.

"We still have a long way to go to improve our state's ethics laws but the FOIA expansion and the creation of the Legislative Open Records Act is long overdue and is a first step to do the right things by the citizens of this state," Moss said.

Legislation to subject lawmakers and the governor to public-records request won approval in the Republican-led House last year but died in the GOP-controlled Senate.

In a speech to the Michigan Press Association last week, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley — who may run for governor in 2018 when Gov. Rick Snyder is term-limited — pledged to begin working to increase government accountability by changing conflict-of-interest, open meetings, FOIA and disclosure laws.

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