By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Michigan is one of only two states that protects the governor and Legislature from releasing public records.
That may soon change after a Michigan House committee unanimously approved a flawed package of bills Thursday to subject the governor and Legislature to the state’s public record laws.
The House Oversight and Ethics Committee approved the bill 6-0 after mounting public pressure to create more transparency among state officials following the Flint water crisis.
But don’t expect the bill to affect records related to the state’s outrageous mishandling of the water crisis. The bill, if passed, wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2017. Any records created prior to that are not subject to open records laws.
Under the bills, lawmakers also conveniently protected themselves and their two legislative bodies from being sued for failing to disclose records. If an appointed “coordinator” rejects a request, the public’s only recourse is to appeal to “the administrator of the Legislative Council and there would not be a judicial review.”
“The new act does not allow a civil action to compel disclosure of a public record,” a synopsis of the bill reads.
Lawmakers also added numerous exemptions for themselves to narrow which public records are available. For example, communication between a constituent and the legislator would not be subject to disclosure, nor would records exclusively in the custody of the majority and minor caucuses of either public body.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.