Michigan House Members Pass FOIA Expansion Bills


Michigan House members on Thursday passed bills that would make the governor, lieutenant governor and the Legislature accountable under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The package of 10 bills — a bipartisan effort — passed unanimously and now moves to the GOP-controlled Senate where its future is not so certain.

Republican Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering and Democratic Rep. Jeremy Moss of Southfield are lead sponsors. They said residents are demanding more transparency following the state's involvement in events like the Flint water crisis and a sex scandal involving two now-former members of the state House.

"If Michigan residents and journalists can't see the inane parts of how their government works, then how are they going to examine things of greater consequence like the expulsion of two legislators or things of the greatest consequence like a health and water crisis in a proud Michigan city," Moss told House members Thursday.

Michigan is only one of two states that do not subject the governor or lawmakers to open records laws, Moss added, referencing a 2015 Center for Public Integrity poll that ranked the state last in regard to transparency.

"If we believe transparency is good for our local units of government, then we should subject ourselves to the very same standard," Chatfield said in a speech to House members. "In our current system of government, transparency should be non-negotiable."

The bills are likely to die in the Michigan Senate where Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof has been vocal in opposition to the legislation. The West Olive Republican has said he's concerned that constituent emails with legislators would become public and that they will think twice before contacting their senators if the media could file FOIA requests to get the communications.

The bills, however, would exempt constituent emails from FOIA requests.

Meekhof also said the House bills do not have much support in his GOP caucus.

But House Speaker Tom Leonard still was optimistic about the bills getting through the Senate.

"The fact that we passed 10 bills and there was not one 'no' vote shows how committed this House of Representatives is to creating more transparency in the state government," Leonard said.