Bill would hurt transparency in state government

More secrecy in government is one of the last things the state of Michigan needs.

A bill that would keep bids secret until the state government awards a contract is nearing final approval in the Michigan Legislature, with the legislation expected to be up for a vote in the House today.

The legislation, Senate Bill 69, would prevent firms from using the Freedom of Information Act to access the bid information of competitors to win a state contract. It also means companies’ trade secrets and financial and propriety information would be exempt from disclosure.

Supporters of the legislation like these facts.

However, critics like the Michigan Press Association, which strongly supports FOIA, are against adding more exemptions to the open-records law. They believe there already are privacy protections in place for companies that seek government work.

After the House votes, the bill will go to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

We can understand why companies would favor the legislation. Their secret financial information would stay that way. However, if they have something to hide, wouldn’t the public benefit from knowing it?

Free-flowing information is essential to democracy. However, obstacles have been put in the way of this process, particularly in Michigan.

Snyder and the state Legislature already are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Last December, after easily passing in the Michigan House of Representatives, a set of bills with bipartisan support that would have mostly repealed the governor and Legislature’s FOIA exemption didn’t make it past the Senate, supposedly because it needed some work.

FOIA exemptions include documents that are: classified as secret in the interest of national defense of foreign policy; related solely to internal personnel rules and practices; contain exempt information about gas or oil wells; specifically exempted by other statues; a trade secret or privileged confidential commercial or financial information obtained from a person; a privileged inter- or intra-agency memorandum or letter; compiled for law enforcement purposes; contained in or related to examination, operating or condition reports about financial institutions the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates; and a personnel, medical or similar file that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Senate Bill 69 concerns bid information of companies vying for a state contract. That information could be useful for the media and public to know, and it doesn’t necessarily contain so-called trade secrets. The public isn’t asking for a company’s secret formula for its flagship product. It wants to know a company’s bid and what services it can bring to a project.

Two nonprofit organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, ranked Michigan last in the country in 2015 in a national study of state ethics and transparency laws and safeguards.

Having the governor and Legislature exempted from state open records laws didn’t help, and neither will Senate Bill 69 should Gov. Snyder sign it.

— The Mining Journal, Marquette

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