Improved FOIA bill blocked in Senate

In the nearly 40 years since Michigan’s legislature passed the Freedom of Information law (FOIA), that belief and practice of open access to the workings of government is challenged again with loopholes, laws, foot dragging and excuses that deliberately thwart the public’s access to records they have bought and paid for with their tax dollars. Change is needed, and it could come as early as January if the Michigan Senate stops stalling and acts.

In a near unanimous bipartisan vote on March 20, the Michigan House, doing its job, approved changes to tighten and toughen the state’s Freedom of Information law in House Bill 4001. It was a stellar moment for Michigan citizens and their absolute right to know what their state and local governments including school districts are doing.

Introduced by Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-65) and carefully shepherded through the House Oversight Committee by its chair Rep. Tom McMillin (R-45), HB 4001 arrived at the State Senate on March 25–and unless Senators can be told by the voters to act, will die there.

Senate Majority leader Randy Richardville (R-17) assigned the FOIA bill to the Senate Government Operations Committee that he chairs,  and there it sits in the legislative version of death row. Richardville’s district includes covers Monroe, southern Washtenaw and eastern Jackson counties. In the legislature, if the committee chair doesn’t like a bill, the chair can, in effect, veto it by never bringing it up to a vote. And that is exactly what the lame duck, term-limited Senator Richardville is apparently doing.

He doesn’t like the bill. Neither do many local and county governments  around the state and lobbyists, like the Michigan Municipal League, are determined the bill be killed, too. All claim their overworked staffs would be inconvenienced by these changes. They also object to the legislature limiting what they can charge for copies and searches.

The  Internet has made transparency cheap and easy, and many citizens from seniors as young as toddlers are web savvy.  Many local governments  and school districts post information like agendas, minutes, proposals, salaries, awarded bids and other records and data online.

HB 4001 is a good fix for a law that’s effectiveness has been compromised during the last four decades.  (For more specific details on the bill, read MiCOG’s March 21, 2014 blog post.) With the bipartisan support of 102 Representatives, House members did what they were elected to do–improving  transparency and accountability for the people who hired them,  the people they serve. It’s time for the Senate to stop stalling and also do what is best for the people of Michigan by moving HB 4001 out of committee and voting to approve it.

Let Senator Richardville and the other four committee members know that supporting and approving HB 4001 is what’s best for Michigan now and for its future.  And let your own Senator know he/she should also support HB 4001 and approve it, as is.

Government Affairs Committee Members are:

  • Randy Richardville  (R)  Committee Chair, 17th District, 517-373-3543
  • David Hildenbrand(R) Majority Vice Chair, 29th District,517-373-1801
  • Arlan B Meekhof (R) 30th District, 517-373-6920
  • Gretchen Whitmer (D) Minority Vice Chair, 23rd District, 517-373-1734
  • Tupac A Hunter (D) 5th District, 517-373-0994

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