LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Representative Tom Kunse (R-Clare) attempted to bring bills out of committee, directly onto the house floor for discussion regarding transparency laws, some expanding the scope of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to encompass the legislature and Governor. 

The multiple attempts were rejected by the House and will remain in Committee on Ethics and Oversight for discussion. 

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Rep. Kunse also serves as the Minority Vice Chair on the committee who attempted to move six of the transparency bills which have not moved from committee in six months to be discussed on the house floor. 

House Bills 4264-4269 have remained in the House Ethics and Oversight Committee since mid-March without a vote, some of which address the scope of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 

“The legislature, none of us, not the Governor [are subject to FOIA],” Rep. Kunse said in an interview with Michigan News Source, “How do I tell my cities and townships, hey you have to live by this set of rules, even though I’m not going to.” 

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Rep. Kunse’s request for the bills to come to the floor also comes after the revelation that Representative Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) who serves as the House Appropriations Chair has likely had an overlap of her time in the legislature and serving on a public relations firm showing a possible conflict of interest

The Detroit News broke a story revealing that Chairwoman and Representative Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township), has maintained recent affiliation with the firm Edge Partnerships, which works for some of the state’s largest trade associations, and has demonstrated at least once using her legislative position to help a firm client access policymakers. 

Michigan News Source independently discovered and confirmed with a source at the State Capitol that one of House Appropriations Chairwoman Witwer’s Legislative Staffers is the daughter of Edge Partnership co-founder & current CEO Lorri Rishar. 

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Representative Witwer has yet to answer for these alleged conflicts of interests or testify that she has not received financial benefits or given them to Edge Partnerships while serving in the legislature. 

“This is the exact type of situation I wanted to prevent through the financial disclosure plan my Republican colleagues and I introduced earlier this year,” Rep. Kunse said previously. “Sadly, the Democrat majority has refused to hold a hearing on our bills, despite the constitutional amendment adopted by voters last year to require financial disclosure forms for legislators.” 

Language in House Bill 4264 would forbid a member of the legislature from voting on a bill if they were found to have a conflict of interest, “A member of the legislature shall not vote on a bill, a joint resolution, or an alternative measure if the member of the legislature has knowledge that the member of the legislature has a personal or professional interest in the bill, joint resolution, or alternative measure.” 

On Wednesday, Rep. Mike Harris (R-Waterford) introduced new transparency legislation that would prohibit the use of code or symbols in government records in order to avoid detection under Michigan’s transparency laws. 

“No one should employ secret codes or symbols to conceal our government’s actions from the people of Michigan,” Harris said in a statement. “My plan will prohibit cryptic communication and record-keeping designed to thwart transparency. Disguising documents to keep Michiganders in the dark should have no place in our government.”

Rep. Harris’ bill, HB 5038, comes after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding water pollution in Benton Harbor revealed a lobbyist consulting the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy sent advice to the department, revealed a paragraph in the email referring to the Flint water crisis in Greek letters. 

“A public body shall not prepare, or possess or retain without correction, a public record that uses code words or phrases, symbols, foreign language or non-English letters or characters, or any other content that impedes an understanding of the true subject of the record by one who reads only English or, if created or maintained electronically, impedes discovery of the record by an automated search of is true subject in English,” House Bill 5038 reads. 

The penalty for noncompliance would impose a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in prison and a $1,000 fine.