Continuing the fight for transparency

With Sunshine Week upon us, we should all take the time to reflect on the importance of an open and transparent government.

The best way to ensure the government truly represents the interests of the people is to allow everyone to see its inner workings. That’s the mindset behind open meeting requirements and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which allows people to request public documents from elected officials and government entities.

Unfortunately, we reside in one of just two states that still exempts the governor and legislators from that public disclosure law. Residents can obtain information from their local and county-level elected officials, school board members, and even state departments — but not the people who represent their interests in the state Senate, House or governor’s office.

It’s time for that to change.

The first piece of legislation I introduced after taking the oath of office this year was part of a bipartisan plan to end those exemptions and allow people to hold their state elected officials accountable. I sponsored a similar plan last term that received unanimous approval in the House, but stalled before making it to the governor’s desk.

Under the plan, the governor and lieutenant governor would be subject to the provisions of FOIA. Things are a little more complicated when it comes to applying FOIA to the legislative branch because of a clause in the Michigan Constitution.

The constitutional separation of powers prevents the judicial branch from interfering with legislative affairs, and FOIA appeals are routed through the court system. Additionally, the speech and debate clause prevents legislators from being “questioned” by the executive or judicial branches over communications made in the performance of their duties.

Other states have run into constitutional problems after expanding FOIA to their legislatures. Their laws ended up being unenforceable.

I’m committed to enacting a law we know will hold Michigan legislators accountable.

After considerable research, we decided the best solution would be to create a new law, called the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA), which mirrors FOIA in nearly every way. We address the constitutional concerns by ensuring appeals concerning legislative record requests are handled by an impartial, nonpartisan entity. That will ensure the public has a fair and effective way to appeal improper denials and excessive fees.

This is not a partisan issue. I think we can all agree that requiring elected state officials to become more transparent will strengthen our system of government as a whole.

A lack a transparency breeds distrust in government. It’s time for us to earn back the public’s trust by setting an example of openness and honesty. This is the right plan to get it done.

State Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, is serving her second term representing the 106th state House District covering Alpena, Presque Isle, Alcona and Iosco counties, as well as part of Cheboygan County. She previously served three terms as a Cheboygan County commissioner.