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Michigan lawmakers consider making Legislature, governor's office subject to FOIA law

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Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 17, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan ranks right at the bottom when it comes government transparency. Some state legislators are looking to change that.

“We do need a tool here that to expose communications that are wrong, unethical and possibly illegal. If you aren't doing anything wrong then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about," said state Sen. Jeremy Moss, D- Southfield, during a Senate Oversight Committee hearing this week.

Unlike most other states, Michigan's legislature and the governor's office aren't subject to the Freedom of Information Act. That means they don't have to make emails and other records available to the public.

This week, the state Senate Oversight Committee heard testimony from lawmakers and other stakeholders who support a package of bills sponsored by Moss and a Republican colleague that would require the governor and state lawmakers to respond to FOIA requests and establish the Legislative Open Records Act.

“As you all know and you’ve all heard a million times we are one of only two states in the nation that don’t have our Governor and our legislature subject to FOIA. And we think its time. We think that crises like the Flint Water Crisis and the COVID situation have really kind of shown us why these things are necessary," Lisa McGraw of the Michigan Press Association testified.

The issue has been brought to the forefront in recent weeks after news reports revealed that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration struck confidentiality agreements with two former directors.

Some critics say it's one example of a glaring problem for taxpayers and those concerned about government accountability.

“I don’t have to as a legislator, as governor, as the attorney general, as the secretary of state you don’t have to disclose anything. How much you’re worth, how many debts you have. I’m an officer in the United States Army. We have to do all those things for our security clearance because it makes a difference for people in your risk and risk factors," said state Sen. Adam Hollier, D - Detroit.

Hollier says he’s hoping his colleagues on both sides of the aisle will make transparency and accountability a top priority.

The bills are something Moss has been working on since he joined the legislature. He says he’s confident this package will gain approval.

“Next week, we anticipate a committee vote and then for the very first time, they will be on the Senate floor. That’s kind of this goal that I’ve been chasing after all these years," Moss said.