While Michigan already has as one of the most secretive state governments in the nation, the Great Lakes State also ranks third in the number of bills introduced that are designed to decrease public disclosure of information.
A nationwide Associated Press study has found that Michigan, along with Tennessee, had the third highest number of bills limiting public access to information, at 13, among the 34 states reviewed.
The state Legislature is moving backwards.
In a 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity that examined state government accountability and transparency, Michigan ranked last overall among all 50 states, including 42nd in access to information.
In addition to the state’s grade of “F” in open information, it continues to suffer a black eye as one of just two states that exempts the Legislature and the governor’s office from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A package of bills passed by the state House to correct that dubious distinction has lied dormant in a state Senate committee for more than six months, where it has little chance of advancement.
Lawmakers across the country introduced and debated dozens of bills during this year’s legislative sessions that would close or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings, according to a review by The Associated Press and numerous state press associations.
Most of those proposals did not become law, but freedom-of-information advocates in some states said they were struck by the number of bills they believed would harm the public interest, and they are bracing for more fights next year.
The AP review of the 2017 legislative sessions found more than 150 anti-disclosure bills were introduced nationwide, with dozens more slated for future sessions later this year. The project tracked state legislative attempts to alter the flow of public information, defined as bills that seek to make certain information off-limits to the public or harder to access.
An analysis of the AP data by the Detroit Free Press found that the 13 bills in Michigan put the state even with Tennessee, and just behind California, which had 14 pieces of legislation seeking information limits. Florida led the pack with 41 bills that included secrecy provisions.
Two of the proposed bills in Michigan have become law so far: legislation limiting public access to police body-camera video, and a provision blocking information about state contracts.
A report last week by MLive concluded that the number of measures affecting access to public information in the Michigan Legislature is actually 19.
“These continual efforts to exempt statutes that are proposed from the Freedom of Information Act are absurd,” Jane Briggs-Bunting, founder and president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, told the Free Press. “And any legislator that votes for that should be voted out by their constituents.”