Group details ballot bill to open Michigan goveror, lawmakers to FOIA

Michigan Capitol
Posted at 5:55 AM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 05:55:07-04

(AP) — Advocates for open government on Tuesday unveiled the specifics of their ballot proposal that would open Michigan's governor and lawmakers to public-records requests.

The state is one of only two to wholly exempt the governor's office from the Freedom of Information Act and among eight where legislators are explicitly exempt. The liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan will have to collect about 340,000 valid voter signatures to send the bill to the Republican-led Legislature, which could make it law or let the measure go to voters in November 2022.

Bills to end the exemptions from the 1976 law have stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate in recent years after winning widespread bipartisan support in the GOP-led House. Though the House is expected to again pass legislation this week, Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott criticized it as inadequate.

“I would encourage any members that value true transparency to take a look at those bills long and hard and what they actually provide for — because it isn't transparency and it isn't accountability,” he said. The measures, he said, apply a “much lower standard of disclosure” to the Legislature than to other government branches.

The ballot initiative would require records to be produced within 60 days, provide for the disclosure of records from legislative caucuses — not just individual lawmakers — and require the governor, lieutenant governor and legislators to publish each day a log of their public visitors and public events on the previous day. It also would, unlike the pending bills, let people seeking legislative records go to court.

The drive will be sponsored by the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes, a ballot committee that also plans to gather signatures for a proposed 2022 constitutional amendment to ban free food and drinks for elected officials and require former legislators to wait two years to become lobbyists. The initiative was suspended in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.