House FOIA Package Has Some Big Holes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan

March 4, 2019

Contact: Sam Inglot, 616-916-0574, sam@progressmichigan.org

House FOIA Package Has Some Big Holes

Lack of judicial review, weak document retention policies in LORA need to be fixed  

MICHIGAN — Progress Michigan is calling attention to a bipartisan package of bills introduced in the Legislature addressing reforms to the Freedom of Information Act. The bills are problematic because they hold the Legislature to a different standard then every other level of government and have a weak standard for record retention policy.

Progress Michigan has been the leading organization calling for FOIA reform to open up the Governor’s office and Legislature to more transparency and accountability. The bill package introduced in the House does not meet that standard.

The bills in question, HB4007-4016, open up the Governor’s office to FOIA, which Progress Michigan is very supportive of, but creates a different set of standards for the legislature with the creation of the Legislative Open Records Act.

“We were thrilled when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for this needed change during her State of the State address a few weeks ago and it’s an effort we are committed to seeing through. Unfortunately, a bipartisan package of bills introduced in the legislature fail to live up to the mantra of extending full FOIA to both the Legislature and Governor’s office,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “The bills establishing the Legislative Open Records Act do not follow all the components of the FOIA law, most importantly the option for judicial review when access to records is denied and a lack of the retention law that exists in FOIA.”

Progress Michigan believes the legislature should be subject to FOIA just like local governments, school boards, state departments and — as outlined in this bill package — the Governor’s office.

Progress Michigan has pointed out two major issues with the bill package: the appeals process under LORA and the record retention policy.

Under LORA, the appeals from a legislator’s denial of a records request as well as disputes over the costs charged for records are not subject to independent review by a court as is the case with all other FOIA appeals, but go to the Administrator of the Legislative Council. The Administrator is an at-will employee of the Council which itself is made up of legislators appointed by the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader.

Another huge issue with these bills in current form is that they do not follow the same retention policies as FOIA. Under current law school board, municipalities and state departments are required to keep documents for a period of time up to several years based on the type of document it is. Under LORA the Legislature is only required to keep documents for 30 days, regardless of type of document.

“What this bill package does is hold the Governor to a higher standard than the legislature is attempting to hold themselves, which is not what the citizens of Michigan want and deserve,“ Scott continued. “We should also be clear that these bills are NOT the same as extending FOIA to the legislature, though that has been a common refrain from Republican leadership. We are thankful that the Legislature is taking up FOIA reform, but the Legislature should not get its own special rules when it comes to FOIA. The time for real FOIA reform is now, we should not settle for incremental steps when bold action is what is needed.”

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