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House Democrats renew call for hearing on open records bills

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The Legislative Open Records Act would require state legislators and executive officials to disclose records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Michigan House Democrats are renewing their call to get a hearing for stalled bipartisan ethics legislation known as the Legislative Open Records Act.

The package would require state legislators and executive officials to disclose records under the Freedom of Information Act.

State Representative David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) said people are losing trust in those who serve in government.

“It is easy for people in government, unfortunately, to do so in a way that enriches them, that enhances their lifestyle, and it’s easy for them to evade responsibility for that behavior in Michigan right now. That has to change,” LaGrand said during a press conference renewing their call.

The bills have been stuck in the state Senate Oversight Committee since last March. But committee chair Senator Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp) said ethics reform legislation could move by summer.

“I’ve got a big meeting with other legislators later this week that are working on this project from the House, from the Senate. There’s a lot of interest in the issue,” McBroom said.

This is the third time the House has sent similar legislation to the Senate. It didn’t move on either previous attempt.

“It’s this stonewalling that is the reason we had Michigan ranked last in transparency, last in the nation for transparency in the government,” House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp) said.

The Center for Public Integrity's 2015 rankings put Michigan in the lowest spot.

McBroom said he supported the Legislation himself as a member of the House. This time, he said, the main hold-up is ongoing work to attach other ethics reforms to the bills.

“I don’t want to lose the ability to maintain the influence that I have in the committee setting by voting them out too soon and then losing control in the larger body, so I’m trying to do a lot of advanced legwork first,” McBroom said.

A concern Democrats expressed during Tuesday’s press conference was Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s past hesitancy to take up legislation dealing with financial disclosures for lawmakers.

Asked if he thought Senate leadership would be on board with reforms this time, McBroom said he was hopeful. “[Shirkey’s] always looking for a solution to a problem, and so when he comes to me with things that he thinks are serious, then I have my marching orders, and I go and look for solutions. And, if I can find them, then [he] accepts that, so I’m very optimistic that we can find a path to success,” McBroom said.

The package to create the Legislative Open Records Act passed the House with unanimous support.

Other ethics-related priorities for Democrats haven’t fared as well. House Democrats are also pushing House Speaker Jason Wentworth to bring up a resolution to create an ethics committee.

The future of that resolution is unclear.

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