At a time when conspiracy theories and mistrust of government abound, starting with allegations from the highest office in the nation on down to area school districts, you'd think Michigan lawmakers would at long last do something to shine light in these dark places, to show that there is nothing nefarious, illegal or unethical going on in state and local government.
As unbelievable as it seems in this age of instant information—which seems only to serve to foster paranoia and conspiracy theories—Michigan is one of just two states in the country where the governor and lawmakers are exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The state's transparency laws and access to information are among the weakest in the nation; and this has been the case for years.
Even the dark shadow of the Flint water crisis wasn't enough for lawmakers to move to change this reality, though there have been several bills proposed over the past few years that have stalled out because Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof refuses to allow those bills to come before the senate for consideration.
This week, conservative Republican Gary Glenn of Midland introduced House Bill 5733, a bill that would force governments to comply with FOIA requests within 60 days. Glenn says his measure is "in response to a public statement issued by Attorney General Bill Schuette in December 2017 outlining how Michigan's FOIA does not specify a particular timeline for when a state department must fulfill a request for information."
If there's no time limit for responding to FOIA requests, the entire FOIA process is rendered moot. According to Schuette's opinion, governments can take as long as they like—and perhaps even longer—getting the requested information to the public. This is unacceptable. As taxpaying citizens, the public is entitled to know what state and local officials are doing with those tax dollars. Unless it's information that would breach security or sensitive personnel records, we have a right to know what's happening in government, which we fund with our tax dollars.
Glenn's proposed legislation is certainly a step in the right direction. It is our sincere hope that lawmakers will continue to open the window on what's happening in government by extending FOIA requests to the governor's and state legislator's offices. This is not an unreasonable request, by any means. The reluctance to make this equitable change does nothing but foster suspicion and mistrust. That's not fair, nor is it productive, for anyone.