House OKs subjecting lawmakers, governor to record requests

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING — The Michigan House voted unanimously Tuesday to expand the state’s open-records law to cover the Legislature and governor’s office, moving to end the state’s status as one of just two that wholly exempts both entities from disclosing communications and other information to the public.
The bills were sent to the state Senate, where similar legislation died twice in recent years. Backers, though, were hopeful that the measures would gain traction this time and reach the desk of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is supportive.
“We’re here to serve the public, and people deserve to see what we’re doing so that they can hold us accountable,” said a sponsor, Republican Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City.
Another sponsor, Democratic Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Wayne County’s Brownstown Township, said he was subject to public-records requests as a teacher and as a local parks and recreation commissioner.
“It’s time to open up the doors of our state Capitol to make sure that the people of Michigan have the tools that they need to understand how our state operates,” he said.
The 1976 Freedom of Information Act explicitly exempts the governor from records requests. A 1986 opinion by the state attorney general said legislators also intended to exclude themselves from the law.
Calls for a more open state government have grown since state regulatory failures led Flint’s water to be contaminated with lead. Under the legislation , the governor, lieutenant governor, their offices and employees would no longer be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act starting in 2020. A new section, the proposed Legislative Open Records Act, would be added to cover the Legislature. Unlike other public bodies, however, the Legislature could not be sued if a request were denied. Appeals would be decided by a panel of lawmakers.
The protection from lawsuits and the addition of numerous exemptions to exclude gubernatorial and legislative information from public disclosure drew criticism, but advocates still called the bills a good step forward.