Nov 18, 2022 - News

Will Michigan Democrats keep promise on open records reforms?

Illustration of a manila folder opening like a door.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Michigan's ethics, accountability and transparency laws consistently rank near the bottom of the nation.

The intrigue: The pressure is now squarely on Democratic lawmakers and the governor to change that.

Why it matters: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised to use her authority to extend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the governor's office in her Michigan Sunshine Plan.

  • She has voluntarily disclosed some personal financial information, but the FOIA extension hasn't happened. She later suggested she would consider voluntarily subjecting her office to FOIA in 2019, which also hasn't happened.
  • A spokesperson didn't directly answer when asked whether the governor would support future legislation to subject their office to FOIA.

State of play: Local governments and state departments are subject to FOIA, which requires them to turn over documents to members of the public who request them.

  • The bipartisan ethics package passed through the House last year would have extended FOIA to the governor, lieutenant governor and their staff, as well as to the Legislature, which are all currently exempt.
  • While the package was never taken up by the Senate, support for reform has been growing on both sides of the aisle, Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) told Gongwer this week.

Meanwhile, the passage of Prop 1 means state lawmakers and some statewide officials are required to disclose assets, sources of incomes, liabilities, positions held outside their elected office and payments and gifts from lobbyists.

What they're saying: "Those gaps over the last several years have been filled by bad actors," Sen. Jeremy Moss, who along with McBroom, has advocated for greater transparency in Lansing, tells Axios. "We have to do a whole ethics package to ensure that there can be a restoration of trust between those who work at the Capitol and the people who sent us here to represent them."

Between the lines: The Michigan Press Association, which has pushed for a more transparent FOIA, is hopeful reforms will be passed with Democrats in the majority.

  • "Let's celebrate Sunshine Week (in March) by signing the bills that subject the governor and Legislature to FOIA, not just by introducing them," spokesperson Lisa McGraw tells Axios.

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