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Freedom of Information Act

A full Senate vote on Besty DeVos' U.S. education secretary nomination is expected next week.
BetsyDeVos.com

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.

(Support trusted journalism like this in Michigan. Give what you can here.)

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.

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. 

MATTHILEO / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

This week, Republicans and Democrats in Lansing seem to agree that it’s time to expand the state’s open record laws to cover the governor and the Legislature. Michigan is one of only a couple states that don’t already require all lawmakers to be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Ken Sikkema, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants and a former Republican legislative leader, along with Vicki Barnett, a former Democratic legislator, joined Stateside and said it might not be smooth sailing to the governor's desk. 

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan and Louisiana are the only two states that don’t apply their public records laws to the legislature and the governor’s office. A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers have rolled out bills to change that.

Michigan is ranked among the worst states in the country when it comes to government ethics and access laws.

A Tesla electronic car at a charging station
Austin Kirk / creative commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

This Week in Review, Jack and I look at a lawsuit in which Michigan and 20 other states seek to block a new federal rule that expands overtime eligibility for white-collar workers.

We also discuss a bill that would require more transparency from state lawmakers, and electronic car maker Tesla's lawsuit against the state of Michigan.


The Michigan State Capitol
user aunt owwee / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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.

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

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.

Governor Rick Snyder
Flickr user Michigan Municipal League / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There is only one state in the entire country where, under the law, the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

You guessed it: it's Michigan.

senate.michigan.gov

It’s Sunshine Week, when Americans celebrate access to public information (and highlight instances where there isn't enough transparency). The Freedom of Information Act became law in Michigan in 1976. But it came with a big loophole:, exempting the governor and the lieutenant governor and their staff. 

A Flint water protest
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Before Flint's water problems were widely known to the public, Snyder administration officials spent a lot of time emailing back and forth about the city and its water. 

We wouldn't know that if the governor hadn't voluntarily released batches of emails. That’s because he and the Legislature are exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

But that could change.

Wikimedia Commons

It’s Sunshine Week, which was created to raise awareness and appreciation for our access to public information and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, there is one segment of our population that is not allowed to use FOIA: prisoners.

Wikimedia

As more of the nation’s attention is focused on police shootings, more police departments are putting body-worn cameras on their officers.

The idea is to improve relations and trust between police and the community.

But bodycams raise some sticky questions about balancing transparency and respecting privacy.

Michigan is one of only a couple of states that don’t already require all lawmakers to be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

It is well-documented that the state of Michigan is one of the worst states when it comes to transparency and openness in government. Now, with the Flint water crisis, the issue has been brought to the forefront.

To kick off Sunshine Week, a celebration of Americans' access to public information, Stateside welcomed Jane Briggs-Bunting, the president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, to the show.

Gov. Snyder to release more emails about Flint

Feb 23, 2016
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder says his office will release all Flint-related emails dating back to the beginning of his administration in 2011, including the governor’s emails and staff emails.

Gov. Snyder says they’ll come soon – but has not given a specific date and time.

Snyder says attorneys need to look over the emails and remove any documents that would normally be exempt from public information requests. The governor is releasing the documents voluntarily, as his office is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Gov. Rick Snyder delivering his 2016 State of the State speech.
YouTube screenshot - GovSnyder

In most states, if journalists or citizens want to hold our elected officials accountable, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an important tool in our political toolbox.

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."
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

Chris Robbins just wants to figure out why teachers and students aren't allowed to use Pinterest, and other websites blocked by the Plymouth-Canton school district.

So the Salem High School senior and student newspaper reporter sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the district, asking for emails in which some 85 teachers and staff appealed the blocked websites.

Courtesy of the office of State Rep. Phil Phelps

A state lawmaker is heading to court to force the city of Flint and a state agency to release documents related to the decision to make the Flint River the city’s drinking water source.

A year and a half ago, the city switched from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River.   

Initially, there were complaints about the smell, taste, and appearance of the city’s drinking water. More problems, including high levels of lead in the water in many homes, led Gov. Rick Snyder to address a $12 million plan to return the city to Detroit water, until a new pipeline from Lake Huron is completed next year. 

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."
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

A progressive group is crying foul over the price tag a state agency requested for processing a public information request it submitted.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Treasury sent an email to officials in his department and the governor’s office that said the department considered denying the request because it was too broad. But he said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette advised it to use “the fee approach.”

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A Michigan lawmaker is renewing a push to subject the state legislature and governor's office to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

This comes the same week the House Business Office released a summary of its findings on the recent sex scandal involving  representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

The full report hasn't yet been made available to the public.

MSU football players approach the field.
Matt Radick / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Court of Appeals says Michigan State University must release the names of student-athletes who may be suspects in criminal cases.

MSU redacted the names of witnesses, victims, and suspects from campus incident reports requested by the sports network ESPN as part of its investigation into which colleges are most lenient with student-athletes who are suspected of crimes. ESPN did not object to striking the names of witnesses and victims, but said the names of the suspects were necessary to its investigation.

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

This week in Michigan Politics, political analyst Jack Lessenberry talks about a new law affecting Michigan workers, a plan to fix the roads that increases the gas tax, the high cost of information, and government officials looking at the effects of the same sex marriage ruling.

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."
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

A Goodrich family is outraged after being told they would need to pay $77,718.75 for information about their son.

Sherry Smith sent a Freedom of Information request to Goodrich Area Schools for 14 months of emails that mention her son, after the school changed her son's individual education plan for his disability.

"I never in a million years would have imagined it would amount to $77,000 worth," Smith said.

More than a dozen state senators have sponsored a bill that would eliminate Michigan's income tax by 2022.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan House is considering a bill that would exempt some footage obtained from police body-warn cameras from the Freedom of Information Act.

The bill would make police audio and video recordings taken in a private place, connected to an ongoing investigation, or relating to a civil action exempt from FOIA.

State House bill 4540 would exempt information regarding energy infrastructure from Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.
user toffehoff / flickr

  

A bill just introduced in the State House would draw a veil over information about oil and gas pipelines, electrical lines and other key pieces of energy infrastructure.

Under House Bill 4540, backed by State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, that information would be exempt from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, making it no longer available to the public.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio’s political junkie Zoe Clark and Michigan Public Radio Network’s Bureau Chief Rick Pluta – who together host “It’s Just Politics” – say Democrats are asking that state government be a bit more transparent. They’re talking Freedom of Information Act reforms.

Michigan State Capitol Building
Nikopoley / Wikimedia Commons

In Michigan, the Governor’s Office and state legislators are not subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

State Representative Brandon Dillon,  D-Grand Rapids, wants to change that.

Dillon says he believes that the Governor's Office and state legislators should be subject to the same laws as other elected officials, such as school board members, city commissioners, county commissioners and many more, who aren't protected under the exemption.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's public records law allows anyone to request information that can help shine a light on what government is doing, but not all of government is subject to those disclosure requirements.

  Michigan's Freedom of Information Act does not cover the governor, lieutenant governor, their offices or legislators. It does, however, cover state departments, local governments and schools.

dave / morgueFile

Gov. Rick Snyder will soon consider a bill that could make public records cheaper and easier to obtain.

Proponents have long claimed some agencies that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) charge exorbitant fees to process requests for public records. They claim the goal is to discourage people from trying to obtain those documents.

Michigan governor, legislators exempt from FOIA requests

Sep 22, 2014
Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Some records about gun owners in Michigan would be shielded from the public under a bill that passed the state Senate Thursday. The bills had overwhelming bipartisan support. Only two state senators voted against the package.

If passed, the measure would change who can access information, like a person’s name and address, from pistol license applications and a database that tracks pistol histories.

Republican State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, introduced the bill to protect what he calls gun owners’ “fundamental right" to privacy.

“When it comes time for releasing information on gun ownership, we just believe that that deserves a different level of protection and it shouldn’t be public information,” Pavlov said.

The public and the press would lose that access, but police would not.

“If there’s suspicion of a crime that a gun was used in, those are all ways that you can access the system. So law enforcement, certainly they need it for law enforcement purposes. It’s not something that needs to be public information on the streets,” Pavlov said.

The bill comes in response to a New York state newspaper that published information about registered gun owners there. He wanted to prevent it from happening in Michigan.

The bill now heads to the state House.

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