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For the Record: Michigan bill could expand FOIA law to governor and legislature

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In our continuing coverage of the state of public records laws across the country, we’re turning to Michigan and how two new bills could expand the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

MuckRock has tracked new proposed legislation in Colorado and Kentucky and the future of public records laws in New Jersey, Utah and Arkansas. Last week, we looked at legislation in Louisiana that, if enacted, would limit public access to a local government’s “active” negotiations in economic development projects.

Want to know how open your local government is? MuckRock provides guides for each U.S. state and territory, including average response time to a request, whether public records laws apply to the state’s executive and legislative branches and more.


What the bill would do:

Two bipartisan bills introduced in Michigan’s state Senate would expand which agencies and public bodies are subject to public records requests.

Michigan Senate Bill 669 would amend the state FOIA law to modify the term “public body” to “include the Legislature and the Executive Office of the Governor or Lieutenant Governor.”

Separately, Michigan Senate Bill 670 would require a FOIA coordinator be hired for the state Senate and House of Representatives and would apply “current FOIA exemptions to public records of the [Governor] and the Legislature.”

Why it was introduced:

Currently, Michigan is only one of two states that exempt the executive branch from public records law.

Introduced by Sens. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), the two Senate bills would “allow the public to hold these offices to certain standards of accountability,” according to an analysis of the bills released by the state legislature.

“Some believe that members of the Legislature and the [Executive Office of the Governor] are not transparent enough under current FOIA exemptions,” the analysis reads.

In a press release, state Sen. Jeremy Moss called the Michigan legislature’s “the unscrupulous behavior of some of our colleagues have raised ethical questions, at best, and criminal charges, at worst, made headlines across our state and tarnished this entire institution.”

“Those actions from bad actors were only made possible by the dark areas in our law in which they could exist — chiefly among them, that legislative records in Michigan never have to be made public. Forty-eight other states have figured out how to apply the Freedom of Information Act to their legislatures or governor. We have to catch up with the rest of the country where journalists and residents alike can serve as watchdogs over their government.”

How Freedom of Information advocates view the legislation:

Transparency groups in Michigan have celebrated the new legislation.

“[The Michigan Press Association] is delighted that after spending decades in the basement of rankings for transparency in state government, our legislature is looking at lifting exemptions in our FOIA laws that have long been in place for the Governor and Legislature,” Lisa McGraw of the Michigan Press Association told MuckRock.

“While these bills are not perfect, we believe they are a good start toward getting more sunshine on Michigan’s state level elected officials.”

What’s next:

Members of Michigan’s Senate Oversight Committee sent the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Update

  • Audit reveals Arkansas governor’s office handling of public records: A legislative audit of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders found that her office may have broken the law while buying a $19,000 lectern, and how the office handled public records requests related to the purchase, reports Jonathan Edwards in The Washington Post.

  • Alabama Senate agrees on setting timelines for requests: The Alabama Senate approved a bill that would require agencies to acknowledge and respond to public records requests within a certain time frame, reports Jemma Stephenson in the Alabama Reflector. It takes an average of 188 days for state agencies to respond to open records requests, according to MuckRock.

  • Colorado bill drops vexatious requester provision: Colorado lawmakers removed a controversial provision in House Bill 24-1296 that would allow government agencies to designate a requester as “vexatious,” defined as someone demonstrating an “intent to annoy or harass” a records custodian, reports Ben Markus for Colorado Public Radio.

FOIA Finds

  • Public records reveal price gouging of essential items in prison: The Appeal created a database of prison commissary lists from 46 states using public records of prison commissary price lists and vendor contracts from all state prison systems. The investigation revealed that incarcerated people are charged significantly more for essential items than people outside of prison, report Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg and Ethan Corey.

  • Public university’s offer to Virginia governor: MuckRock’s Virginia proxy resident Tom Nash, who files requests on behalf of MuckRock requesters who don’t live in the state, reveals how Virginia Commonwealth University has been courting Gov. Glenn Youngkin for its commencement speech and offering an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Nash filed this request on MuckRock and the documents are available to view here.

  • Texts and emails reveal decision to withhold shooting report: Text and email messages obtained by The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia, via a Freedom of Information Act request reveal repeated correspondence and an “urgent” meeting between the University of Virginia’s police chief and the Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney days before the university decided to withhold a long-awaited investigative report into a 2022 shooting that claimed the lives of three UVA students, reports Jason Armesto in The Daily Progress.