State Rep. Mike Harris on Tuesday recognized Sunshine Week and joined with his colleagues to introduce a wide-ranging plan to make Michigan government more transparent and accountable to the people of the state.
The 12-bill government reform plan would extend state open records laws to the governor’s office and Legislature, require key state officials to disclose their finances, boost ethics requirements to prevent conflicts of interest, and prohibit lawmakers and other officials from becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office.
“Michigan government should be open and accountable to the people it serves, but our state has consistently lagged behind in basic, fundamental government transparency,” said Harris, R-Waterford. “Our plan will raise standards for public servants and shed light on the workings of state government.”
Harris is the lead sponsor of House Bill 4269, which would require state officials to disclose their finances according to Proposal 1, the constitutional amendment approved by two-thirds of voters in November 2022. Harris voted last May to place the reform measure on the ballot.
“Last fall, Michiganders overwhelmingly voted to require their elected officials to disclose their finances,” Harris said. “Now it’s time to carry out the will of the people and shed sunlight on state leaders’ personal finances. This transparency will help citizens ensure that officials put the people’s interests ahead of their own.”
The overall plan, contained in HBs 4261-4272, would provide greater transparency and firmer ethical standards by:
- Opening state records: Michigan is currently one of two states whose Freedom of Information Act does not allow citizens to obtain government records from the Legislature or governor’s office. House Republicans’ plan would subject the governor, lieutenant governor, and legislators to open records requests.
- Disclosing officials’ finances: Since the passage of Proposal 1, the Michigan Constitution requires the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and legislators to disclose their finances publicly. The new legislation would require state officials to file an annual report describing their assets and liabilities; sources of earned and unearned income; positions held in organizations other than religious, political, social, and fraternal entities; agreements for future employment, continued or deferred payments from past or current employers, and other employment arrangements; and gifts and travel payments from lobbyists.
- Eliminating conflicts of interest: The House Republican plan would expand current conflict of interest laws to prohibit a lawmaker from voting on any measure that would provide a substantial financial benefit particular to the legislator, an immediate family member, or a person or entity to whom the legislator owes a legal or financial obligation. Bipartisan ethics committees in the House and Senate would ensure legislators comply with the ethical requirements.
- Closing the revolving door: Former legislators and cabinet officials often take lobbying jobs soon after leaving office, and in recent years, one legislator was even paid to lobby in other states while still in office. The legislation would bar lawmakers from lobbying out of state and prohibit departed legislators and state department heads from becoming lobbyists for at least two years.
“The Michigan State Police conducts criminal background checks to help protect the most vulnerable Michiganders of all ages, but the system needs updating for our state to continue facilitating this resource,” Harris said.
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