Transparency bills targeting Michigan governor, legislature advance


Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers would be subject to similar transparency rules other government bodies in the state face under legislation advanced Thursday by a state House committee.

A bipartisan bill package introduced earlier this year by Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, and Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, would subject the governor to the Freedom of Information Act, an act commonly known as FOIA that outlines which records are subject to public disclosure and the response timelines a government body must follow.

The bills would also create a separate Legislative Open Records Act, or LORA, to create similar disclosure requirements for members of the legislature.

With little discussion, members of the House Oversight and Ethics Committee unanimously voted to recommend the package to the House floor.

Amendments that were formally added to the package Thursday included a handful of new exemptions for the governor's office, including communications on gubernatorial appointments, pardons, budget documents and State of the State addresses prior to their formal announcements.

McBroom said the amendments were an attempt to fold in special constitutional tasks assigned to the governor that, if made public in advance, could jeopardize negotiations or discourage the best applicants from putting their name in for appointment positions.

"Nobody likes to have their rough drafts read out of context," he said. Subjecting the governor's thought process to FOIA, he said, "will not make him do a better job."

Another amendment refines the definition of "constituent" in the package. Under the bills creating LORA, communications on personal computers, records regarding bill drafting and constituent communications are not subject to disclosure, but the amended version stipulates that registered lobbyists' communications are not exempt.

The bills have been met mostly with praise from transparency advocates, especially in the wake of the Flint water crisis, which exposed city residents to lead in the water.

Gov. Rick Snyder has released thousands of pages of executive office emails voluntarily, but the legislation would in theory make such disclosures routine.

Critics have referenced costs of filing open records requests —€“ some reform advocates have complained that costs as currently written into statute are too high for the average citizen —€“ and the process of subjecting the legislature to a different set of open records rules.

McBroom said the Flint water crisis was not a factor for him in pushing the reform, as he has been working on for years. That said, he acknowledged the crisis "made the fruit riper for picking."

Moss told lawmakers Thursday he's looking forward to continuing work on the package and appreciated McBroom's bipartisanship on the issue.

The bills will now come before the full state House for consideration. McBroom said he hopes to see the package taken up in the House before the legislature's summer break.