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Week in Review: FOIA bills and DeVos opposition

Feb 4, 2017

Michigan is one of two states that don't apply public records laws to the governor's office and the Legislature. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and Michigan Radio senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry look at bills from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who want to expand the state's Freedom of Information Act.

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They also talk about this week's settlement of a major lawsuit over the state's automated unemployment claims system, opposition to Betsy DeVos' nomination as U.S. education secretary, and former Snyder chief of staff Jarrod Agen's new job in the White House.

FOIA expansion bills

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers wants the public to have more access to records and communications within the governor's office and the state Legislature.

Michigan and Louisiana are the only two states that do not apply their public records laws to the legislature and the governor’s office. Michigan lawmakers are hoping to change that with legislation introduced this week.

A similar set of bills died in the Senate last year, and Lessenberry says he's not sure if things will be different this time around.

"[The bill] will certainly pass the House, but some House members may vote for it knowing full well the Senate will kill it. That's what's happened before," Lessenberry says. 

Unemployment fraud lawsuit

One of two major lawsuits against the state over its automated unemployment claims system was settled this week.

Between 2013 and 2015 the system accused thousands of innocent people of unemployment fraud, resulting in garnished wages and tax returns. The director of the state Talent Investment Agency recently apologized for the fiasco.

Lessenberry says the state's slow response to the mess reminds him "in an unsettling way" of Flint.

"[Gov. Snyder] didn't even fire the head of the [unemployment] agency -- he just reassigned her. This is a story that's going to keep on going, and it's going to cost the state and the taxpayers a lot of money trying to pay these people back," Lessenberry says. 

DeVos nomination process

This week a U.S. Senate committee approved Betsy DeVos' nomination as U.S. education secretary with a party-line vote, though two Republican senators expressed hesitation.

Both of those senators later confirmed they would not vote for DeVos when the full Senate votes on the nomination next week. At this point, that means a tie which Vice President Mike Pence will break.

However, Lessenberry says it's conceivable another GOP senator could flip before then.

"A senator like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina or John McCain of Arizona, who have their own difficulties with the Trump administration, might flip over. If that happens, if they get one more Republican, [DeVos] is going back to Grand Rapids," he says. 

Agen heads to the White House

One of Gov. Rick Snyder's top aides has taken a job at the White House. Snyder chief of staff Jarrod Agen has been named the new communications director for Vice President Mike Pence.

Lessenberry says the move isn't surprising, since the Snyder administration is term-limited.

"A lot of people are going to be bailing out of the Snyder administration as it comes to an end. We may see even more since there's both term limits and no prospect that the governor will run for something else," Lessenberry says.