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Group Says It’s Ready To Put FOIA Expansion To Voters

Maxim Jenkins

The Michigan Legislature is moving closer to adopting a package that would place lawmakers and the governor under open records laws, but it’s not enough to stop a progressive group from going ahead with plans to launch a petition campaign.

The Senate Oversight Committee held its first hearing Tuesday on measures to expand open records laws with an eye toward a vote next week. The state House has a similar package teed up for floor votes.

Republican Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) is a leading sponsor who also chairs the Senate Oversight Committee. He said it’s shameful that Michigan ranks near the bottom of the country in laws that ensure people have access to public records.

“As long as we continue to deny them that access and as long as Michigan, in particular, is an outlier, we’re only going to allow suspicion to continue to rule and mistrust to grow,” he said.

McBroom and ranking Democrat Senator Jeremy Moss of Southfield both sponsored the bills. Moss said the bills are an initial step that can be expanded upon in the future.

The bills would place the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office under the purview of the Freedom of Information Act, which currently covers state departments and local governments. They would also create a separate Legislative Open Records Act.

But the group Progress Michigan is going ahead with its own plans, declaring the Legislature's efforts too little, too late.

Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott said he’s seen similar efforts fall short too many times.

“Every year is like Lucy with the football, where the Legislature says 'we’re gonna get it done, we’re gonna get it done, we’re gonna get it done,'” he said, “and then it goes and dies in the Senate, or the bills are so carved out that this isn’t real transparency anyways.”

Scott says a key element missing from the House and Senate bills is access to official calendars so voters can know who is meeting with elected officials.

If Progress Michigan gets enough signatures, the Legislature will get a chance to adopt the initiative on its own, or allow it to go on the ballot next year. The Legislature would also have the option to put a competing version on the ballot.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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