Michigan House Republicans
Rep. Steele: Sunshine Week sure seems cloudy
RELEASE|March 13, 2024
Contact: Donni Steele

State Rep. Donni Steele, in honor of Sunshine Week, is calling for action on her recently introduced plan to expand the scope of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to cover all state government. The plan creates the Open Government Commission to oversee FOIA requests and appeals. 

“Nearly 200 years ago, Lansing was a swamp. But that did not stop two brothers from selling would-be residents lots of quality land that did not exist. The original wetlands have long since been drained but the swamp remains just as mucky as the 1800s, and our leaders are still trying to sell our state capitol as something that it is not,” said Steele, R-Orion Township. “Too many well-meaning folks have been elected only to sell their souls and embrace the swamp culture. It needs to end. Passing our plan to expand the scope of FOIA would be the first step in lifting the clouds that has covered Lansing for its entire existence.”

House Bills 5422-5427 institute a set time frame for governments to produce records andincrease fines and penalties for public bodies that fail to comply with FOIA requests. The plan also strengthens the ability of individuals to take civil action when government improperly withholds information.

The proposed Open Government Commission could review all FOIA requests pertaining to the state Legislature and governor’s office. Appointees on the commission would represent various political and media entities to ensure a fair process. The commission would have the authority to investigate complaints, issue binding opinions, and impose penalties.

For the past 10 years the Michigan Press Association has celebrated Sunshine Week by honoring state officials working to promote and protect transparency in government. This year, MPA chose not to recognize anyone because Michigan ranks near dead last regarding government openness compared to other states. Regardless of Michigan’s abysmal rankings, House Democrats still chose to adopt a resolution honoring Sunshine Week instead of considering the House Republican plan to expand FOIA.

“The Sunshine Week resolution is yet another example of House Democrats trying to plug a phony message of transparency in Lansing while being completely unwilling to make any meaningful change,” Steele said. “We are not resolution-makers. We are lawmakers. Lawmaking is the only thing that will bring true transparency to Michigan.”

Violations of public trust are not limited to the Legislature and the governor. Last week, Attorney General Dana Nessel denied a FOIA request for communications between the two leading prosecutors assigned to the Flint water crisis. Reporters wanted to better understand the decisions that led to criminal charges against former state officials. In denying the request, the Attorney General’s office said that releasing the information would not serve the public and some of the material would violate attorney work product privilege.

“Forty-eight other states trust their citizens with information about the inner workings of state government,” Steele said. “Decisions like this from the attorney general belittle the public by assuming they cannot handle basic information. Leadership in Lansing either believes the people of Michigan are truly too inept to have better access to their state government, or they have become so complacent that no one is willing to make a meaningful change to the status quo. Democrats ran on transparency – yet they have shown zero intention of honoring that commitment. House Republicans are ready to lift the curtain on state government. I hope my colleagues across the aisle will soon join our efforts.”

HBs 5422-5427 are awaiting consideration by the House Government Operations Committee.


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