Demand transparency, FOIA now

Government should be transparent. Recent examples of bad government – like the lack of accountability at every level in Flint’s water crisis – show how great a need this can be, as well as how pieces of the truth sometimes only come out after public records are obtained using the Freedom of Information Act.

So why then is Michigan one of only two states that offer the Governor’s office and Legislature blanket exemptions from FOIA?

House Bills 5469-5478 – which include the Legislative Open Records Act and an update to the existing FOIA law – sought to bring Michigan in line. After the House passed them in September, the bills were sent to the Senate, where nothing has happened since. What is the hold up?

Michigan Senators, pass the bills. And Gov. Snyder, sign them swiftly. Do this to demonstrate to the people that you believe in transparency – at every level of government.

Effectively, these bills bring the offices and staff of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Michigan Legislature under existing FOIA laws while allowing for exemptions to protect constituent communications and candidates who were not chosen for appointments (among others).

The new act, once signed, would take effect Jan. 1 and immediately begin to help foster greater transparency and trust between government and the people of Michigan. This is sorely needed.

Transparency in government, much like oversight in business, helps to both actively combat and prevent corruption.

The bills are not perfect. There are questions about the appeal process for information requests that are denied. However, placing these offices under FOIA in any capacity is a major step for the state and one worthy of signing.

It comes down to this: people should demand transparency in government as much as government requires trust of the people. Blind trust can foster corruption, so a balance must be struck.

FOIA fosters this balance for most public bodies, and will continue to do so. The highest offices in Michigan’s state government should be included in this, and will be with the signing of House Bills 5469-5478.

Michigan, like so many parts of the U.S., needs greater trust in government now. Having everyone equally under FOIA would be a victory for us all.

— The Lansing State Journal