Another new year and another new opportunity for state lawmakers to get serious about transparency in government.
Currently, Michigan ranks at the bottom rung of the ladder as the only state in the nation where state law exempts the governor and lieutenant governor from the requirements of Michigan's Freedom of Information Act. Current Attorney General opinion also holds that the state legislature is exempt from FOIA as well. As unbelievable as this seems, it means that the taxpaying residents of this Great Lakes State have no rights when it comes to requesting and/or obtaining records from the governor and from their elected representatives. We find this to be absurd! These officials work for the people, so demanding to see evidence of the measures they're taking in their efforts to represent those who've elected them is not an out-of-bounds request, nor is it an invasion of privacy.
During the last session, there was bi-partisan support to make changes to this archaic exemption. These efforts—a series of bills known as the 'Legislative Open Records Act'—passed the state House, but were stalled in the Senate by then-majority leader Arlan Meekhof, who is term-limited out. He asserted that only journalists were interested in FOIA requests, and let the matter drop. We know that's just not true. Local municipalities often receive FOIA requests from everyday citizens interested in taking a look at what's happening in their local governments. The fact that all of us are unable to do so on a state level is alarming.
There has already been some discussion and a show of bi-partisan support to remedy the lack of transparency in state government issue once again. And once again, the Senate Majority Leader—Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake)— says the legislation needs more study. In a recent Michigan Radio interview, Shirkey told reporters that the transparency legislation "might actually discourage negotiations, discourage conversation and so forth..." He said he's also concerned about legislators' private information being released.
This sounds much like the same-old, same-old. It makes one wonder why lawmakers are so reluctant to let the public know what they're working on at the Capitol, and who they're dealing with both on and behind the scenes.
We encourage our area representatives—and new state Senators Kevin Daley and Dan Lauwers—to listen to the call for transparent state government. This issue has plagued the State of Michigan for years. It's time to tackle this issue and let the sun shine in.