The sentiment was unanimous in the state House of Representatives on Thursday: The Legislature and governor's office should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which provides access to records.
Michigan is one of only two states in the nation that exempt the Legislature and governor from open-records laws and during Sunshine Week, which celebrates transparency in government, the 10-bill package passed 108-0.
"We shouldn’t be satisfied that 48 other states have figured out how to make transparency work," said state Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield. "We rank 50 out of 50 states by the Center of Public integrity. No one should boast that we run a transparent government."
State Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, added, "The very first three words in the federal and state Constitution are 'We the people.' Should the actions we take in office and records created because of that work be open? I believe they should be."
But the House will be hard-pressed to get a consensus — or even a hearing — on the bills in the state Senate. Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he doesn't support the legislation and there is little appetite for the bills in the Senate.
Two members of his Republican caucus — Sens. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton — have introduced similar bills, but Meekhof has assigned them to the Government Operations committee, which he chairs. It's a place where bills go to either be taken up quickly or die.
"I’m not planning any hearings on the bills," Meekhof said. "There’s not overwhelming support in the caucus. And there’s no support over here for (the House bills), either."
Meekhof has said that plenty of information is already available from the Senate, including salary and benefit information of all Senate employees, office budgets, and all bills and budgets, as well as a live webcast of all Senate sessions and committee hearings.
"I do not believe constituent correspondence should be available for review by the public or the media," he said in an opinion piece run in MLive this week. "I do not think lobbyists should be able to request my e-mails so they can advantage their clients. I do not think political opponents should be able to review my calendar for their own gain."
That didn't stop the House from introducing the package of bills both last year and again this year. The bills would:
- Subject the governor's office and the Legislature to open-records laws.
- Exempt legislative documents in several areas, including constituent communications, internal deliberations in the Republican and Democratic caucuses, security procedures, bids from vendors before a contract is awarded, records from the Legislative Services bureau bill-drafting division and records that are advisory in nature.
- Set up a process to appeal a denial of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
- Set the fees a public body can charge for gathering and copying records.
The bills — HB 4148-4157 — now move to the Senate for consideration.