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Governor and legislators are exempted from FOIA requests. One lawmaker wants to change that.

Michigan State Capitol Building
Wikimedia Commons

In Michigan, the Governor’s Office and state legislators are not subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

State Representative Brandon Dillon,  D-Grand Rapids, wants to change that.

Dillon says he believes that the Governor's Office and state legislators should be subject to the same laws as other elected officials, such as school board members, city commissioners, county commissioners and many more, who aren't protected under the exemption.

Only a handful of other states allow these high ranking officials to not be subject to FOIA requests, and Dillon wants to find out why legislators feel this exemption is worth keeping. 

"I'm hopeful that we can at least have a discussion and a debate to find out what the rationale is for this exemption to exist," Dillon says.

Those in support of the exemption say it protects sensitive topics that deserve private discussion, but Dillon isn't swayed by this argument.

"If we feel we have to make these decisions behind closed doors, I would question people's commitment to a representative form of government."

"If we feel we have to make these decisions behind closed doors, I would question people's commitment to a representative form of government," says Dillon.

Dillon believes there is one area that shouldn't be subject to a FOIA request -- talks between constituents and their representatives.

Dillon is hopeful that the Legislature can agree on rules that would allow constituents and their personal information to not be subject to the same review given to legislators' discussions about policy and other matters.

A similar bill was introduced last session that didn't pass, but Dillon is hopeful about this one and says legislative leaders have expressed that they are open to discussing the issue.

Dillon doesn't consider this to be a partisan issue, and urges elected officials to give their citizens as much information as possible. The bill was introduced last week, and Dillon says he sent a letter to the committee chair as well. 

"I have not heard back yet, but that is not going to deter me from continuing to talk to him and others about the need for this, and at least get an explanation about why people think it's OK that Michigan is one of the only state's in the union that allows their state legislators and governor to be a protected class of politicians," Dillon says.

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