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Michigan’s Attorney General Is “Embarrassed” By The State’s Freedom of

Information Act

By Kelley O’Neill (Wayne State University Student Journalist)

October 16, 2019

The United States is often called the land of the free, but in Michigan some

information is simply exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),

leaving many in the dark.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

addressed journalists, students, and the general

public about Michigan’s Freedom of Information

Act and its need for reform at a FOIA convention

last Saturday.

“I can’t think of anything more important

than for the public not just to know what’s going

on in their government but also have the tools

available to them and to know how to go about

seeking that information,” said Nessel in regards

to FOIA.

Photograph by Kathy Johnson (Wayne State University)

Nessel was the keynote speaker at the first annual FOIA Festival hosted by The

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Detroit Chapter at Wayne State University on

Saturday, October 12​th​.

This festival was designed to teach the community and professionals more about

Michigan’s Open Meetings Act and FOIA in order to better understand the need for

government transparency.

“I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed that Michigan is the only state in the

nation where state law actually exempts the governor, lieutenant governor, and the

legislature from the requirements of the state’s Freedom of Information Act,” said

Nessel on Saturday.

In January 2019, Attorney General Nessel took office and has been working

toward more government transparency and FOIA reform since then.

Some of the reform measures discussed at the FOIA Festival include reforming

exclusions to the executive and legislature branches of government, developing a state

ombudsman specifically for FOIA appeals and eliminating excessive fees, delays, and

loopholes in Michigan’s current FOIA.

Although FOIA reform is much needed in Michigan, Attorney General Nessel

went on to address the need for government transparency stemming at the federal level

saying, “While I am embarrassed on various levels for our lack of transparency in

Michigan, but what’s happening in the federal government right now is absolutely


After speaking on FOIA and Michigan’s need for reform, Nessel also spoke of

how her office handles FOIA requests (423 this year) and how FOIA restrictions,

loopholes, and high costs are delaying ongoing investigations.

The fight for FOIA reform is underway with a bill already passed through the

House, but it now lays in the hands of the Senate. One elected official, Senator Jeremy

Moss has been persistently working to push the reform bill through the Senate.

Along with being of the worst states in terms of FOIA restrictions Nessel also

said, “we are one of eight states that get a failing grade for integrity from the Center for

Public Integrity and I really think we are actually ranked last in transparency.”

The 2019 SPJ Detroit FOIA Festival gave the community, students, and

professional journalists the information and tools to stay informed and to also seek out

truth from their government, in turn holding them accountable for their actions.

Although FOIA is extremely important to the press, make no mistake the

common citizen benefits from the knowledge just the same. "Without these constructs in

place, it will be the end of America as we know it,” said Nessel.