Sunshine Week is a time to celebrate the laws that keep our government open and accountable to the people.
We should also use this week to take an honest look at areas where our laws our weak and think about solutions that could better ensure the public has access to information about how its tax dollars are used and how its government operates.
Michigan has one very glaring weakness: Our status as one of just two states that exempt the governor’s office and state legislators from sunshine laws. Year after year, Michigan ranks dead last in a national study of transparency and ethics for this very reason.
Right now, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives people in Michigan the right to request access to most public records from local governments, school districts and state departments. This is something I was subject to as an assistant attorney general, and I was happy to serve with openness and honesty.
It makes no sense for elected state officials to play by a different set of rules.
It’s well past time for these exemptions to end, and I’m determined to be part of the solution.
The very first piece of legislation I introduced after taking the oath of office as state representative was part of a bipartisan plan to increase the transparency of state government.
The proposal will subject the governor and lieutenant governor to FOIA and hold state representatives and senators to the same high standard by creating a new law called the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA).
While LORA mirrors FOIA in many ways, there are exemptions for constituent inquiries to ensure that when you contact your state legislator, your personal information is protected and kept private. Other communications lawmakers have with state departments and lobbyists would not be exempt.
A lack of transparency often results in distrust and insecurity. After all, how can we expect people to have faith in their government if they don’t have a way to hold their elected officials accountable?
I respect the people of Clinton and Gratiot counties who put their trust in me last November to represent their interests in Lansing as their new state representative. I want them to be able to hold me accountable. LORA will be an important tool the public and the media can use to do just that.
Giving the public access to expanded and credible information will strengthen our system of government by helping people understand what happens in the state Capitol.
State Rep. Graham Filler is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing the 93rd District, which encompasses Clinton County and portions of Gratiot County. He chairs the House Judiciary Committee.