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Bollin spearheads plan expanding ethics reforms in wake of Chatfield allegations

A local lawmaker announced a plan Wednesday to tighten lobbying regulations and strengthen the protections available under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

 

State Rep. Ann Bollin, (R-Brighton Twp.) chair of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, is helping sponsor the bills, which come during the state’s annual Sunshine Week. which highlights the necessity for open government and readily accessible public information.

“During Sunshine Week we celebrate the laws that keep our government open and accountable,” said Bollin. “I cannot think of a better time to announce a plan that will strengthen those laws and make elected leaders and government workers more transparent and accountable to the people.”

 

The bills come while an ongoing criminal investigation continues into former House Speaker Lee Chatfield. The Republican from northern Michigan has been accused by his sister-in-law of sexual assault. However, he also faces allegations of financial misconduct, including paying family members thousands of dollars from his campaign and taking expensive trips. Chatfield has denied all of the allegations.

 

The plan introduced by Bollin contains four measures focused on ethics, including prohibiting paying family members with campaign money, as well as requiring more detailed campaign finance reports and banning lobbyist-sponsored travel. It also includes improvements to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that make the process for requesting public documents easier and more accessible to the public.

 

House Bills 5921-29:

 

  • Create stricter ethical standards for officials and candidates: Lobbyists will no longer be able to sponsor travel or lodging for legislators. A political candidate’s immediate family members will be banned from receiving payments from campaign accounts.
  • Increase transparency surrounding lobbyist and campaign spending: Lobbyists will be required to disclose money spent on partisan legislative staff. Detailed descriptions of campaign expenditures and disbursements will be required and made available to the public on the Secretary of State’s website.
  • Make FOIA requests more accessible to the public: The plan would streamline bureaucratic processes that frequently slow down requests for public records under FOIA.Public bodies will be required to clearly post the name and contact information of their FOIA coordinator, accept electronic payments for documents requested under FOIA, and acknowledge that a record exists even if it is exempt from FOIA. If a FOIA request is denied, the plan requires a public body to bring up all reasons for denial at the time of the denial. It also clarifies that a public body cannot shield documents from FOIA by handing them over to legal counsel.

 

The new bills have been referred to the House committees on Oversight and Elections and Ethics.

 

While passage through the House is likely, the bills face a much tougher road in the GOP-controlled Senate.

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