Jeff Yaroch State Representative

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State lawmakers urge Senate to pass open-records bills

Local state lawmakers are hoping the state House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of a bill package that subjects them and the governor to freedom-of-information requests will convince the Senate to do the same.

The state House of Representatives passed the measure last week in a 108-0 vote. Meanwhile, state Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, the Senate majority leader, reportedly has said he doesn’t plan to give the bills a committee hearing.

But three state lawmakers from Macomb County say the overwhelming nature of the vote and colleagues’ pressure could force Meekhof to relent.

“He may be changing his position on these bills,” said state Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights. “I think he’s been getting pressure from his caucus to these bills or bills like them.”

“I think there are enough senators in Lansing to put pressure on Mr. Meekhof to put this to a vote,” said state Rep. William Sowerby, D-Clinton Township. “Clearly, the public is in favor of making this law. There’s no reason why Mr. Meekhof should not bring this” for a vote.

Meekhof did not return a message seeking comment.

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, who sponsored and co-sponsored open-records bills this session and in the past, said he believes momentum is building for them to pass.

“I’m trying to encourage him (Meekhof) to take up the bills,” Bieda said. “I’m glad one chamber found an interest in it. We should all be more open in government.”

State Sens. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, last week introduced bills to accomplish the task.

Bieda said he believes Meekhof’s concerns over lawmakers’ meetings with lobbyists to be used against them and privacy of constituents’ communications can be addressed in the bills.

In the House bills, exceptions to state Freedom of Information Act would include records on documents dealing with security matters, active contract bidding, information of a personal nature, business propriety, pending litigation, exchanges between a lawmaker and constituents, and those held by caucus staffs.

Local governments for decades have been required to provide certain information to the public, and State Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, a former Richmond city councilman, said the state should not force local governments to do something it does not do. The governor’s office also would be required to comply under the House bills.

“It’s about transparency and keeping our government accountable,” said Yanez, who took office in January. “I went to Lansing in the belief that whatever the state tells local government to do, the state should meet the same standard.”

Michigan has long been cited as among the least transparent states, a situation that was highlighted after the Flint water crisis was revealed and Governor Snyder voluntarily released thousands of emails regarding the matter.

To read the entire article at the Macomb Daily, click the link:  http://www.macombdaily.com/government-and-politics/20170321/state-lawmakers-urge-senate-to-pass-open-records-bills

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