Michigan House votes to lift legislature, governor exemption to freedom of information act

The Michigan House of Representatives passed on Tuesday an assortment of bills that expands transparency to the legislature and governor's office by eliminating their exemptions to the state's FOIA laws.

FOIA-your-right-to-know.jpgMost of the bills in the bipartisan package passed nearly unanimously by a margin of 100 to 6. 

The Michigan Freedom Fund is supportive of the package for the simple fact that an open government is a more accountable government. 

Taxpayers, voters, and the public deserve to know how Lansing spends every single dollar they take. This bill package moves our state in the right direction. 

Most other states subject the governor and lawmakers to FOIA. 

Emily Lawler with MLive has more details of the new bill package:

Introduced in March, the bills would subject the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and executive office employees to the current Freedom of Information Act. They would establish a new, partially parallel act under which citizens could request records from lawmakers and name it the Legislative Open Records Act, or LORA.

LORA, which closely mirrors FOIA, would set up a LORA coordinator to handle legislative records requests. But there are differences between what a requestor can get under LORA. For instance, a citizen cannot obtain interactions between a lawmaker and a constituent, records in the sole custody of the Republican or Democratic caucuses or records on internal investigations.

And while the Governor and Lieutenant Governor would be subject to FOIA they would enjoy some specific exemptions. Their offices wouldn't have to share records about appointments, decisions to remove an official, decisions on commutations or pardons or budget recommendations.

Expanding FOIA and ending the exemptions is something that not only crosses party lines, but it also crosses ideological ones.

The Lansing City Pulse highlights the broad selection of groups supporting this measure:

FOIA is an issue where both the left and right wings of politics can coalesce. A more open and accountable government serves the interests of the liberal American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy, both of which testified in support of the bills. Support also comes from organizations as politically diverse as the Michigan Freedom Fund, which is says “exists to defend the Constitution, stand up for our personal and economic freedoms, and inform the public of any and all efforts to take away their rights, and the Michigan State Employees Association, the public sector union representing primarily state, but also county and university employees.

These changes are long overdue. We praise the Michigan House for taking action and working to create a more transparent state government. 

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