News Story

In a Year Dominated by Stories of Strife, Republicans and Democrats Did Come Together in 2014

Here are a few of their success stories

News reports on bills and votes in the Legislature tend to focus on confrontations and things that divide us.

On this Christmas Day, Michigan Capitol Confidential is focusing on examples from the past year of successful problem-solving legislation that overcame two separate divides: Republicans vs. Democrats and the people vs. the political class.

House Bill 4186: Second chances get a unanimous vote of support.

On Feb. 5, 2013, State Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, a Democrat, introduced legislation to limit restrictions on "expunging" (clearing) a felony conviction from a person’s record (with exceptions for very serious crimes). On Dec. 4, 2014 the bill passed the House in a 109-0 vote in the House. Two weeks later the Senate passed a slightly revised version with a 38-0 vote. The House unanimously concurred, and the bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder.

“This is a happy ending to a long-running saga,” said Jack McHugh, legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Similar bills have been introduced a number of times in recent years but failed to advance because it’s controversial. Controversial but important.”

House Bill 4480 (2013): Greater transparency gets two thumbs up – one from each party.

In 1999, then state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith complained about how hard it was even for a legislator to get information from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“I don’t think the Legislature should have to FOIA a department or agency to find out how money is spent,” she told Gongwer News Service.

Although it took 15 years, passage of HB 4480 this year showed that Democrats and Republicans can both be supportive of greater transparency.

The bill was introduced March 20, 2013 by Republican State Rep. Tom Leonard. It passed 107-0 in the House on Nov. 13, 2014, and a few weeks later passed 37-0 in the Senate with some revisions. The House concurred with the changes 108-1, sending the bill to Gov. Snyder for signature.

House Bill 4001 (2013): Holding down the cost of holding government accountable.

The Freedom of Information Act is an invaluable tool in the battle to keep government transparent. Heavily used by news organizations, Michigan's open records law is also frequently employed by regular citizens.

The word "battle" is appropriate, because all too often municipalities and state agencies are grudging in their responses to document requests, and stifle the information flow by demanding excessive fees.

For example, in their response to a 2013 document request the city of Westland demanded $1 per page for copying costs. By comparison, the city of Ann Arbor charged 5 cents per page. Michigan State University charges 10 cents per page.

House Bill 4001 capped charges for FOIA requests at 10 cents per page, and increased the penalties for agencies that "willfully and intentionally" withhold information that should be public.The legislation passed 102 to 8 in the House on March 20, 2014. The Senate reduced some of the proposed sanctions, but in a 30 to 8 vote on the last day of the 2013-2014 Legislature passed a version that still expands public access to information. The House concurred 101-9, and the bill now awaits a signature from the governor.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.