Feb 10, 2007

Ward grandstanding bill would add government he claims he wants to cut


State Rep. Chris Ward has earned a deserved reputation for introducing grandstanding legislation that he knows will go no where but allows him to say he is address a problem during campaign season, but he out did himself with the planned introduction of a bill that creates a state-level office to enforce the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The story was in Friday’s edition of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, and it raises more questions than it answers. The first one is why didn’t he introduce the bill just a few months to four years ago when the Republic Party was the majority party in both Houses of the state Legislature and would have no trouble getting such a bill passed. For the past two years Ward was the Majority Floor Leader, and he was the sole person able to decide what legislation would go before the full House for consideration.

Obviously, the Republic Party is settling into its minority role quite nicely, and Ward can say he addressed a problem.

The second question is why are we talking and writing about something that has not even been introduced yet. It does not take much to get a bill introduced. You simply tell the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau what you want, and they promptly return it to you in bill and legal form. You take it to the nonpartisan clerk’s office who simply reads the title of the bill at the end of the session day when no Legislators need be present where it is assigned a bill number and it’s then referred to a committee.

Now, the hard part is getting the assigned committee to give the bill a hearing and get it discharged out to the full House. That would have been no trouble when Ward was in the majority party, but it apparently was not a big enough problem for him to address then.

Ward claims to be a conservative who supports small government, yet he wants to create another layer of government with an ombudsman that apparently would mediate disputes between government units and people making requests under the FOIA.

This is the same person who irresponsibly voted last summer to end the Single Business Tax (SBT) early without a replacement in sight. This the same man who supports the Senate Republics proposed SBT replacement that cuts $300 million out of the tax in the face of a $3 billon state budget deficit. This the same man who wants to make unspecified cuts in government spending, but he still wants to add more government.

He claims the Michigan Press Association, a trade organization that represents some 300 Michigan newspapers, supports the idea, but if you look at their legislative priorities all it says about FOIA is to examine the changes that have taken place to the act since it was enacted and roll back some of the exceptions.

Now, I don’t think this is a bad idea, but when we are facing huge budget deficits our legislators should be addressing and all the Republic Party wants to do is cut, why is Ward proposing more government?

Again, I think FOIA enforcement should be increased because I strongly support open and transparent government, but why can't an existing agency take up the enforcement?

6 comments:

virtuousWoman said...

This is another example of Chris Ward being led and said & out of touch with his constituents. We don't need another layer of Government that will only serve the Politicians. Society in general needs help.

Communications guru said...

Thanks for your input and finally finding your way over to my blog. I hope this means you will be a regular contributor now that you have figured out how to do it. I would love to hear your informed positions on environmental policy.

realist said...

An existing agency does do the enforcement - AG office - and doesn't do a very good job.
If you really think this is a good idea, why do you spend the majority of your post bashing Chris Ward?
I would think that as a former reporter you would favor this.
As far as money, in the article Ward says there should be a self-funding mechanism - but you seem to have left this piece of information out of your synopsis.
Most of your points about Ward's record are good ones. But is it impossible in your worldview to admit that a Republican may have a good idea once in a while?

Communications guru said...

Thank you for visiting and expressing your opinion, Realist. I thought the AG’s office did the enforcement of the FOIA, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure. The AG’s office once championed consumer rights and looked after the small guy, but that’s not the case anymore. Perhaps if we had some oversight for that office, they did their job or we had a new Attorney General we would not need to add a new government position in the midst of a budget crisis where the Republic Party is screaming cut, cut. Of course, they refuse to say what to cut, but you get the point.

I think enforcement of the FOIA is a great idea, and I said so in my post. Howevwer, another government agency may not be the best answer.

I have had few problems with getting information. Perhaps the most reluctant to comply with FOIA has been law enforcement agencies, but I managed to overcome that. It’s ironic that Ward says he wants FOIA requests honored and open government, but it was the Republic-controlled House and Senate that approved Senate Bill 647 in December that shields police statements made in internal investigations from ever being made public.

So this “self-funding mechanism” that would be a tax or fee to the consumer, correct? I thought he was for cutting taxes? Would that make him a flip-flopper or just pandering? Yes, I did leave it out of my post, but I provided the link for you to read the article yourself. How is that trying to hide anything?

But I think you are missing the entire point of the post. Just two months ago Ward was the leader of the majority party and could have introduced that bill at any time with almost assured success. He has been in the majority party since he was elected in 2002. Why are we seeing this bill now? For the past two years he was the Floor Majority Leader, and he decided what bills would be taken up by the full House. He could have introduced this bill two years ago and ensured it was up for a vote. Now, when he’s the minority party he introduces a bill like this when the priority should be just trying to ensure state government can operate and meet the needs of Michigan residents.

I have no respect for his record, and this doesn’t change that.

Communications guru said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chet said...

CG,

I'm a conservative enthusiast of FOIA, for a variety of reasons, including victories in 3 FOIA lawsuits.

Your attack everything that comes out of a Republican attitude shines here - the bill hasn't even been introduced, and its not uncommon for some delay with a press announcement. Regardless, let's see it specifically (I'll be tracking this one closely - just as I am tracking with concern other Republican ideas like the misplaced Con-Con).

If all Chris does is give FOIA requestors essentially another appeal option, this isn't a terrible proposal. If the option has some kind of binding effect and the body itself favors public bodies or a particular party or philosophy, its bad. Back in 96-97 there were a set of appeal options added - internal to the public body and non-binding. I like that - it gives the requestor an option, not required, of having a second set of eyes look at the denial, and the some of the legal arguments before they make a truly final denial.

The main enforcement of FOIA has NEVER been the AG's office. There are too many FOIA requests and it shouldn't be a priority, and its a partisan office anyway. The AG does have some influence on AG Opinion interpretations of gray areas, but courts are still the final say. All other issues must be fought through individual citizen litigation. In Open Meetings Act cases, the AG can bring an action for violation for the people generally, but that is rare, again, since I wouldn't expect the AG to watch thousands of municipalities.