FOIA

Michigan governor, legislators exempt from FOIA requests

Sep 22, 2014
Thetoad / Flickr

Michigan's Freedom of Information Act regulates the disclosure of public records by all public bodies in the state.

But the governor, the lieutenant governor, state legislators and their employees are all exempt from the FOIA law.

The only other state to exempt the governor's office from FOIA requests is Massachusetts. 

Paul Egan is with the Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau. He looked at Michigan's public records laws in Sunday's Free Press.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Legislation in Michigan House could cap FOIA fees

There is new legislation up for initial hearing this week in Lansing. It is a response to local governments and state agencies charging hefty fees for people to see government records.

"One of the bills would limit most charges for requests filed under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to no more than 10 cents a page. Another would create a Michigan Open Government Commission to hear challenges to government denials of information requests," Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

Lansing City Council vs. Mayor Virg Bernero

The Lansing city council will vote tonight on a budget for next year. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports that "the vote will likely put the council at odds with Mayor Virg Bernero." 

The mayor wants to add annual fees for city water and electricity customers. Conversely, the council wants to make several spending cuts including eliminating several new positions the mayor wants to add to the city's payroll. Mayor Virg Bernero will have until Thursday to veto parts of the city budget he doesn’t like. The Lansing city council has until early June to try to override the mayor’s expected vetoes.

Higher education opportunities piloted in Michigan prisons

"After years without funding for prisoners to access higher education, the Michigan Department of Corrections is immersed in several efforts to teach community college courses and vocational training in-house to a small number of inmates who are near parole. Michigan will join a pilot project that hopes to gather enough evidence to possibly resurrect publicly supported postsecondary education in prisons nationally," reports The Detroit News.

JMR Photography / Flickr

A bill in Lansing would exempt some information about gun owners and their firearms from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Among other things, the measure would exempt information from pistol license applications and from a database that tracks pistol histories.         

The legislation is a reaction to a New York state newspaper that recently published information about registered gun owners in the area. Many gun owners were outraged by the move, saying it opened them to harassment.         

Ifmuth / Flickr

One day into their new session, state lawmakers already have an influx of bills to consider.

One resolution in the state Senate seeks to effectively end so-called “lame duck” sessions. On even-numbered years, Lawmakers would be barred from holding regular sessions between November elections and the end of the year.  

Democratic state Senator Glenn Anderson said lawmakers would only be able to act if there’s an emergency.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

148,000 Michiganders getting settlement letters

Michigan residents who lost their homes to foreclosure between 2008-2011 will be sent claims forms as part of a $25 billion national settlement of complaints about improper conduct by lenders. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says about 148,000  are being sent claims forms. "Schuette said Tuesday that those eligible to share in the settlement lost their homes to foreclosure in 2008-2011. He says his office continues to look at possible criminal actions involving what are called "robo-signing" practices in foreclosures. Robo-signing involves people signing documents without proper review. Eligible borrowers had mortgages serviced by Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The companies agreed to the settlement with the federal government and attorneys general for 49 states and the District of Columbia," the AP reports.

House bill would make it easier and cheaper to get public records

"The chairman of a state House committee says it’s too easy for government agencies to delay and sidestep requests for public records. The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings yesterday on measures to make it easier and cheaper for people to get public records. One bill would limit how much government agencies could charge for providing copies of records. Another would create a state commission to hear citizen complaints about compliance with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act," Jake Neher reports.

30,000 kids missing from preschool

"Because of uneven or inadequate state funding, around 30,000 4-year-olds eligible for public preschool in Michigan are not enrolled. That's according to a new report by Bridge Magazine. More than half the kids in the state are eligible for public preschool because they are from low or moderate income families. But, some districts don't have enough money to meet demand. State officials admit money for the program is uneven and inadequate. Momentum for more early childhood education funding appears to be growing among legislators. The Snyder administration has also said it's a priority," Sarah Alvarez reports.

New House bill would limit cost of FOIA requests

Sep 25, 2012

Some of Michigan’s city and township officials are worried about a bill that would limit how much they could charge for public information requests. The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings Tuesday on measures to make it easier and cheaper to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

Bill Anderson of the Michigan Townships Association said local governments are already losing money processing requests.

Michigan’s governor and legislative members are not subject to state open-records law, but Democrats in the State Senate are trying to change that.

Gretchen Whitmer is the Democratic Senate leader. She thinks requiring compliance with the Freedom of Information Act is an important step towards promoting honesty from elected officials.

"We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of ensuring ethical conduct by people in the legislature and setting a standard that’s very clear, and a system that is transparent," says Whitmer.

Her request comes a few days after emails were released by the Oakland County Democratic Party, which suggest the county’s redistricting process was motivated by partisan goals.

Legislation attempting to lift this thirty-six year old exemption is not new. It has been introduced several times before, most recently in the 2009 term. At that time, it was sponsored primarily by Republican representatives, who were in the minority.

-Alex Markel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

photo by Vincent Duffy

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is 34-years-old this month.  According to a ranking by the Better Government Association, it’s one of the stronger Freedom of Information laws in the United States. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

University of Michigan professors are asking university officials to deny a ‘Freedom of Information Request’ in the cause of ‘Academic Freedom’.  The issue concerns email.  

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy says their Freedom of Information Act requests for information regarding labor studies at Wayne State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan is part of its “regular” activity.

Ken Braun is the man behind the FOIA requests and the Senior Managing Editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center’s newsletter. In a posting on the Center’s website, Braun said the requests were made because:

"We were interested in determining whether the LSC and the labor faculty at Michigan’s other two large public universities had actively employed university resources to enter the political debates. At a minimum, we thought a FOIA investigating professors’ emails on these subjects might demonstrate whether state officials should ask questions about this use of tax dollars for public universities. In the worst-case scenario, we knew these emails might suggest that the faculty had acted illegally, because certain political uses of university resources are prohibited by Michigan law. ”

Kate Davidson, of Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project, has been taking a look at the controversy and, in a story posted today, explains:

“Michigan academics aren’t the only ones under scrutiny.  Last month, the Republican Party of Wisconsin requested emails from William Cronon, a historian critical of Governor Scott Walker’s push to weaken public sector unions. 

In both states, the lines got drawn fast.  On one side: an apparent concern about the use of public resources for political advocacy.  On the other: fear of academic intimidation and reprisal in a politically charged climate.”

You can read Davidson’s full story on the state and national implications of various FOIA requests, and hear directly from the Mackinac Center's Ken Braun, on the Changing Gears’ website.

Thought Police

Mar 31, 2011

Several listeners have asked me why I haven’t commented on the battle over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin.  Well, there’s a good reason for that.

Which is, that we’ve got more than enough in Michigan to wrestle with to keep us all occupied. That doesn’t mean, as one of my devoted admirers e-mailed me, that I am a “gutless wonder.”

Matter of fact, I would like to get an inch or two off my gut. Seriously, I have a hard time accepting that anyone should lose their collective bargaining rights in America, no matter who their employer.

But I have an even harder time with anyone trying to suppress anybody’s freedom of expression in any way.

Which brings me to a very ominous development I first read about on the political blog Talking Points Memo, a story which involves Michigan and the Wisconsin mess.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based think tank best known for supporting free-market economics, is asking, under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, for all the emails by labor studies professors at our state’s three major public universities -- Michigan State, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State. 

All the e-mails, that is, that these professors have sent regarding the union strike in Wisconsin, that state’s governor, and, oddly enough, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Why are they asking for these e-mails? The managing editor of the Mackinac Center’s newsletter wouldn’t say. But some fear the center wants to use them to attack liberal professors for using state resources for what could be called improper political activity.

That, or cow them into not expressing their points of view.