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FOIA Reform Moved Through State House With An Unknown Future In Senate

Mar 17, 2017

Files Requested through FOIA
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

Transparency in state government was up for a vote Thursday in Lansing.  The state House approved a package of bills that would open up the governor’s office and the legislature to freedom of information requests.

Thursday was Freedom of Information Day.  To celebrate, the state House unanimously passed a package of bills meant to increase transparency in state government.  

The legislation would subject the governor and legislature to freedom of information requests. Currently, both branches are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act

Democratic Representative Jeremy Moss has been a major advocate for FOIA expansion.  He worked on a similar bills package last session that didn’t make it out of the Senate.  

“When you exempt the governor and you exempt the state legislature from the Freedom of Information Act, it’s not true transparency,” Moss said.  “So, this is a victory for citizens of the state of Michigan and journalists alike to learn a little more about how their government works.”

Speaker of the House Tom Leonard applauded the bipartisan effort saying, “The fact that we passed ten bills, and there was not one no vote, show how committee this House of Representatives is to creating more transparency here in state government.”

But the legislation faces an unknown future in the state Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof has expressed strong opposition to opening up FOIA to the legislature.

Moss said the vote shows their citizens want more transparency – and the Senate should approve them.

“We represent the same folks that the people in the Senate represent,” he said.  “And I think that they’re gonna have to take a tough look at these bills and make sure that they’re adequately fighting for their constituents’ right to understand how their government works.” 

Several Senate Republicans have introduced a similar package of transparency bills.  A spokesperson for Meekhof has said if enough people in Meekhof’s party are in favor of the changes, he will put it up for a vote.

Michigan has ranked dead last in national transparency law rankings.  It is one of only two states that does not subject the governor or legislature to freedom of information laws.

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—Cheyna Roth is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org