In a rare display of bipartisanship, House Republican and Democratic leaders vowed Wednesday to renew their push to expand records requests to the offices of Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature.
A majority of state House members — Democrats and Republicans alike — showed up for a news conference following the brief Wednesday House session to support the reintroduction of legislation that would allow citizens and the press to request records from the offices of the governor, House, Senate and lawmakers’ staffs.
The same legislation last year overwhelmingly passed the House but died in the Republican-led Senate without a vote. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, then expressed concerns that the package would open constituents’ communications to public scrutiny – something that the bill sponsors said the legislation explicitly excluded then and excludes now in its reintroduction.
Michigan and Massachusetts are the only two states in the nation to exempt both the offices of the Legislature and governor from their open records laws.
“We’re not just out of the mainstream … we’re out of the galaxy,” said Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who sponsored a bill in the package that extends such records requests to the governor and lieutenant governor’s office. He sponsored that last year too, with Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who was term-limited in 2016.
Moss said he’s willing to speak with Meekhof about any concerns with the legislation. The Senate leader was noncommital Wednesday morning prior to the legislative announcement.
“I understand they’ve taken some of our suggestions to heart, so there may be a path for some of this,” Meekhof said. “We’ll see what they send over first.”
Republican Speaker of the House Tom Leonard of Dewitt said Wednesday that he and other lawmakers have “heard from our constituents loud and clear: They want more accountability. … I can think of no better way to do that” than by broadening open records requests to offer “more transparency.”
Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, told reporters, “I think it sends a message to the entire state. The house of representatives is serious about expanding transparency and accountability in our government.”
House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, called it “shameful” that 48 other states have open records laws that cover the governor’s office and Legislature’s offices, but Michigan doesn’t.
“It is time to shed light on back-room deals and inner workings of our state government so that politicians can be held accountable when they put special interest ahead of the people they are supposed to serve,” Singh said in a statement.
Singh called the package “a step forward,” but said there’s still more work to be done to “fight corruption and ensure government is worthy of the trust Michiganders put in us.”
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, has ranked Michigan last in the nation for transparency, accountability and fighting corruption in government, although in 2015 only three states scored higher than a ‘D+’ in the organization’s “state integrity investigation.”
The study found that even outside of Michigan and Massachusetts, it is commonplace for open records laws to be “laced with exemptions” while lawmakers and state officials often do nothing to avoid or remedy conflicts of interests, and all too often have “cozy relationships with lobbyists.”