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Lawmakers to vote on opening public records for governor's office and Legislature

Sep 21, 2016

Michigan is one of two states that completely exempts the governor's office from the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Massachusetts is the other. Michigan's public records law also exempts the Legislature, one of a minority of states to do so.

That could change under a package of bills being voted on by the House today.

The Michigan House is expected to vote on legislation that would make the governor's office and the Legislature subject to the state's public records law.

The argument for exempting the governor's office and lawmakers from turning over public records is to preserve access to "frank advice" - advice that wouldn't be colored by knowing the information could be released publicly.

But the current law already covers communication that is "advisory in nature." More from the exemption section of Michigan's FOIA law:

Communications and notes within a public body or between public bodies of an advisory nature to the extent that they cover other than purely factual materials and are preliminary to a final agency determination of policy or action. This exemption does not apply unless the public body shows that in the particular instance the public interest in encouraging frank communication between officials and employees of public bodies clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

Some other states do exempt their governor's "working papers," which can include memos and correspondence.

The Associated Press reports the House bills would exempt from disclosure communications between constituents and legislators along with other certain information.

The legislation might stall in the state Senate. The Senate's Republican majority leader, Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, is "unenthusiastic" about the bills, according to the AP.