A petition drive announced Monday seeks a ballot proposal that would end the exemption for the Legislature and the governor’s office from the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
That glaring loophole is a key reason why Michigan was ranked last among the 50 states in a 2015 study that graded transparency and integrity in government. Michigan is one of only two states that gives lawmakers and the governor a pass on FOIA requests, which typically seek documents, emails other correspondence.
The liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, after waiting many years to see the Legislature end this form of secrecy, has decided to pursue a ballot initiative for 2022 that would allow voters to decide the issue.
“Every year it’s the same story: bills with good intentions … slowly die on the vine because of a lack of political will or commitment to real transparency in the Legislature. The public is sick of it and we’re done playing games,” said Lonnie Scott, Progress Michigan executive director. “The people of Michigan deserve accountable and transparent government.”
The new Speaker of the House, Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, could signal a new approach on the issue in the GOP-controlled Legislature, according to the Bridge Michigan news site. Wentworth voted to expand public records access in 2019 and has called government reform a top priority for 2021.
He’s backing a new personal financial disclosure requirement for legislators – the lack of which also contributes to Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation status — and the House has approved his plan to rein in the so-called lame-duck session by requiring two-thirds, supermajority votes to pass legislation after a November election and before a new session in January.
In contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from the Jackson area, has not yet indicated his position on those bills. Shirkey has received national attention in recent weeks for taking a rightward-shift in in his political positions, including a friendly connection with Michigan militia groups even after a plot by militiamen to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the busloads of right-wing groups from Michigan that traveled to the U.S. Capitol for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Gov. Whitmer supports a broad version of public access to information but she hasn’t taken any voluntary measures toward that goal in the governor’s office.
To land a spot on the 2022 ballot, Progress Michigan would have to collect at least 340,047 petition signatures from registered voters.