By: Jane Briggs-Bunting,
President, Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG)
Reprinted by permission
As citizens around the country celebrate the 13th annual national Sunshine Week from March 11-17, Michigan residents have nothing to cheer.
A series of open records bills that would put Michigan in sync with the rest of the country are buried, once again, in the state Senate Government Operations Committee through the actions of Senate Majority Leader Meekhof, R-Grand Haven.
Despite unanimous bipartisan support in the House for the Legislative Open Records Act spelled out in House Bills 4148-4157, Sen. Meekhof will not move the bills out of the committee that he chairs, or even allow a vote within the committee.
Michigan is the only state in the nation in which state law exempts the governor and lieutenant governor from the requirements of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. In 1986, then-Attorney General Frank Kelley issued an opinion that the Michigan Legislature also is exempt from FOIA. Current Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office recently reconfirmed that opinion.
This makes Michigan a FOIA outlier among the states. It means the citizens here have no right to request and obtain records from their governor and lieutenant governor (a critical issue as the Flint water debacle unfolded) or their elected representatives.
City councils, township and school boards, local and county governments are all required under FOIA to provide public records — except in the case of a limited number of exemptions — to people who request them. But what is required of local public officials is not required of Michigan’s state elected officials.
The Michigan Supreme Court summarily exempted itself from FOIA’s requirements when the law was passed in 1976. The high court ruled that FOIA’s mandates violated the separation of powers of the three branches of government, and that the legislative and executive branches could not compel the judicial branch to be covered by FOIA. So now Michigan citizens have no way of making the governor, lieutenant governor, legislators or justices respond to FOIA requests.