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Bill would bring more transparency to state government, but there's a loophole

Feb 3, 2017

Rep. Lee Chatfield said the FOIA expansion legislation won't be perfect and he doesn't want "perfect to get in the way of good policy."
Credit VINCENT DUFFY / MICHIGAN RADIO

Michigan is one of only a couple states that don't subject the governor and the legislature to open records laws.

Now, the Michigan legislature – Republicans and Democrats – are signing on to legislation that would increase the number of lawmakers subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. An 11-bill package known as the Legislative Open Records Act is part of that legislation. 

The chief sponsor is state Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and he joined Stateside to talk about what could be a significant change to transparency in Lansing.

Rep. Chatfield said this proposal is similar to the legislation introduced last session. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof shut down the bill because it didn't include an exception to correspondence received from a lawmaker's constituents.

That remains a major sticking point for this year's version of the legislation. The definition of a "constituent" is up for interpretation and could create a sizable loophole. 

For example, if a legislator’s "constituent" is a huge donor and correspondence between the two included discussions of favors or a type of pay for play, that could be something that the public might be interested in. 

Chatfield said the legislation won't be perfect and he doesn't want "perfect to get in the way of good policy." 

Listen to the full interview above to hear more about the potential changes to FOIA in Michigan, and why the constituent exception is an important topic for lawmakers.

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