LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — New legislation is in the final drafting stages that would make state legislators and the governor’s office subject to the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
According to the creator of the bills, Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, there have been other versions already introduced, but those bills had “legal issues.”
The bill package that will soon be introduced would align Michigan with the other 48 states that allow people to FOIA the governor’s office and the legislature.
“It’s high time that we also have that accountability to the people we represent,” said Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.
Brinks said some of the things that people would be able to FOIA include communications between legislators and the governor’s office, records of all kinds of government activities and meeting times to see when meetings are taking place and what’s being discussed.
“The FOIA process would help the public actually be able to have some transparency and know what their government is up to so it really just adds clarity. There’s lots of communications that happen between government bodies, between legislators and offices, the governor’s office, the Department of the State Government, and that would be important and helpful,” Brinks told 24 Hour News 8.
Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, believes there are some benefits to the potential legislation as well.
“My roots are in local government so I was used to being FOIAble on everything I did so it wouldn’t be a change for me and I felt it was healthy. I think it’s healthy for our democracy that we shine as much light on the decision-making process of government,” he said.
However, there are some concerns when it comes to confidentiality.
“I think that’s the area that we have to take a look at. Certainly the job of the state legislator is much of the communication that goes through our office is particularly constituents and their concerns. We have to make sure that by expanding the Freedom of Information, that we’re not going to violate the privacy of our constituents or individuals,” VerHeulen said.
Brinks believes it is possible to create a system that would protect constituents.
“We need to make sure that we set up a system that respects that and doesn’t out anyone’s information out there inappropriately. That’s very doable. Our counties do it, our cities do it, and other states do it. We can manage that. Sure, we deserve privacy in our personal lives. When it comes to government business though, the people do have a right to know how we’re spending our time and where we’re putting our resources and efforts,” said Brinks.
The bills have been around long before the Flint water crisis according to McBroom, but Brinks believes the water crisis is just one example of why the potential legislation is important.
“If we had more information spread out to more people, maybe we would have caught this earlier and wouldn’t have had the human tragedy that we’ve got going on in Flint right now,” said Brinks.
McBroom said he hopes to have the legislation introduced the third week of March.