House Republicans introduced legislation this week that would expand the scope of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to cover all state government. The plan creates the Open Government Commission to oversee FOIA requests and appeals. State Representative Tom Kuhn was joined by Reps. Jaime Greene, Donni Steele, Mark Tisdel, David Martin, and Alicia St. Germaine in introducing the plan.
“All of our state government needs to be subject to FOIA requests, plain and simple,” said Kuhn, R-Troy. “There are two states in our country that exempt their Legislature and governor from FOIA requests, and we’re one of them. This lack of transparency and accountability is completely unacceptable. Our plan allows for added public oversight of all government and increases penalties for non-compliant public bodies.”
The proposed Open Government Commission could review all FOIA requests pertaining to the state Legislature and governor’s office. Appointees on the commission would represent various political and media entities to ensure a fair process. The commission would have authority to investigate complaints, issue binding opinions, and impose penalties.
“Transparency isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a guiding principle that should be present in every decision our elected officials make on behalf of the people they serve,” said Greene, R-Richmond. “I am committed to ensuring that every resident has access to the information they need to hold their elected officials accountable.”
House Bills 5422-5427 institute a set time frame for governments to produce records and increase fines and penalties for public bodies that fail to comply with FOIA requests. The plan also strengthens the ability of individuals to take civil action when government improperly withholds information.
“Michigan’s transparency laws fall woefully short — making it hard for Michiganders to hold their government accountable,” said Tisdel, R-Rochester Hills. “The government records of our highest-ranking elected officials aren’t disclosed at all. Meanwhile, citizens’ legitimate transparency requests get stonewalled as bureaucrats drag their feet and exploit vague laws to keep the people of Michigan in the dark. This common-sense plan will clarify, modernize, and expand our Freedom of Information Act to give Michiganders the real transparency they deserve.”
The Speaker of the Michigan House is under scrutiny for denying a request to release its guest list for the governor’s recent State of the State address. Under Kuhn’s plan, that information would be subject to a FOIA request.
“We come to Lansing to serve the people who put us here; those people should be able to access information about how we’re using our offices to best represent our communities,” said Steele, R-Orion Township. “When politicians operate in the shadows, the public is always the last to find out. This plan would change that and prioritize transparency, not dark money, in state politics.”
“As a Genesee County Commissioner, I was accountable and transparent to Michigan taxpayers by being subject to FOIA,” said Martin, R-Davison. “The changes we’ve proposed will make it easier and more accessible for people to access important information that shines a light on how government operates.”
“Today, the state continued to embrace a broken budgeting process that leaves the public confused and left behind. We participate in these meetings where leaders glaze over huge issues that sound nice on paper but make little sense when you dig into the details. Our budgeting process needs a complete overhaul so we can start focusing more on the details and less on fancy buzzwords.”
“Families entrust these state-run facilities with the care of their vulnerable loved ones, and they deserve complete transparency if there has been any negligence on the part of the state,” said Kuhn, R-Troy. “The OAG audit will unseal any bad practices and allow the Legislature to have a wholistic view of how these facilities operate. Elected officials have a duty to step in and take corrective action if the facility is giving families in our community substandard care. This audit is the first step in that process.”
“The most important focus for our community colleges should be student success,” Kuhn said. “Unfortunately, too many students graduate from our high schools with insufficient skills to successfully complete two years of community college. We want to assure that all students who have access to community college, also have access to be successful at the community college level. I don’t see any commitment in the Governor’s State of the State that addresses the need for student success.”
“Noise pollution is growing right alongside the size of our interstates,” said Kuhn, R-Troy. “Our common-sense plan creates a process for local municipalities to seek state funding and secure peace and quiet for people living near busy roadways.”