Michigan House ethics panel rarely met this year, took no action
LANSING – The House Ethics and Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet every Thursday at 10:30 a.m. But it hasn’t met since June, leaving 19 bills stuck in limbo.
Since Jan. 1, the committee met only six times. In every meeting, the committee heard presentations from speakers and adjourned before acting on any legislation.
According to Rep. Tom Kunse, R-Clare, the vice chair of the committee, there are no plans to meet before the end of the year. He finds this “unexcusable.”
“I would love to know why,” Kunse said. “So literally, we will do nothing all year.”
In contrast, the Senate Ethics and Election Committee has met 16 times this year.
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The 19 bills awaiting the House committee’s consideration were introduced between February and July.
The only other committee that has met less often than the House ethics panel this year is the Senate Government Operations Committee, according to the Senate committee’s website.
Quentin Turner, the executive director of Common Cause Michigan, said it is concerning that the committee that oversees ethics and oversight hasn’t dealt with what he called the “pretty obvious ethics and oversight challenges” that Michigan public officials have.
Common Cause is an organization that says it focuses on “good governance.”
According to the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, Michigan ranks last in state ethics based on transparency laws across the nation. Both organizations are based in Washington, D.C.
Democratic Rep. Erin Byrnes of Dearborn, the chair of the House committee, said that no House panels met in July and August because of summer recess.
She said she is waiting for a “broader collection of legislation” to review.
Kunse said that although Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ran her first campaign on transparency and improved Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, laws five years ago, those issues are still sitting on the table of the committee.
Kunse blames Byrnes for holding so few meetings.
Kunse said it “boggles his mind” that Byrnes has not called a meeting, as he said he believes she is a strong leader.
Kunse said Democrats don’t want to consider Republican bills on transparency, adding, “I think there’s a reason that they don’t want very strong disclosure laws – because they don’t want to disclose.”
Byrnes said there is a planning process underway to address those issues
“We want to move in a really intentional way with regard to what we’re bringing forward,” Byrnes said. “We want to have a good plan in place for that.”
“We’re undergoing that process right now, and I’m looking forward to having a really active committee as soon as all those plans are in place,” she said.
Byrnes said that involves research on oversight and ethics laws across the country and meeting with national organizations to discuss how they can be applied to Michigan.
Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, a member of the committee, said, “Just because the committee doesn’t meet doesn’t mean that work is not being done, and I am absolutely positive a lot of work has been done.”
Breen said she has confidence in Byrnes’s leadership.
But Kunse said his colleagues are frustrated.
For example, a bill by Rep. Mark Tisdel, R-Rochester Hills, has been pending since March 14 to prohibit former top state officials from lobbying for two years after leaving government.
“It’s just a matter of transparency, knowledge and a little sunlight,” Tisdel said. “That should help.”
This story was originally published by the Capital News Service.
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