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Lawmakers push for greater transparency with FOIA requests

Sep 15, 2016

The Freedom of Information Act could be changing in Michigan.

A House committee approved a bill Thursday that would prevent public bodies like the government from suing someone that requests information through a FOIA request. The bill is part of a larger attempt by lawmakers to make FOIA more transparent.

The bill comes after The Daily News in Greenville was sued when it asked Montcalm County during the August primaries for personnel files of some county sheriff candidates. This bill would prevent a lawsuit like this from ever occurring.

State Representative Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Twp., is the bill’s sponsor. He says the lawsuit drew his attention to a vague portion of FOIA that needed clearing up.

“A government agency should not be taking retributive action against that person who is requesting the information,” he said. “We should be clear. We should be transparent, and we should be accountable.”

The House committee unanimously approved the bill, crossing party lines. Representative Rose Mary Robinson, a Democrat from Detroit, was one of the members of the committee.

“We should not hinder access to information that the government contains or holds,” she said. “And we cannot allow local communities or the government to interfere with access to the information.”

There are also bills that would make the governor’s office and the legislature subject to FOIA requests. Right now Michigan is among just a handful of states that exempt both the governor and lawmakers from FOIA requests.