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Proposed Bill Would Allow for Court Cost Recovery in Open Meetings Act Violations Cases

Proposed Bill Would Allow for Court Cost Recovery in Open Meetings Act Violations Cases

(Michigan House of Representatives, Oct. 5, 2018)

White Lake, Troy, MI- The Michigan House of Representatives has introduced a plan to better protect the public and hardworking taxpayers through additional Open Meetings Act parameters.

House Bill 6411, sponsored by state Reps. Martin Howrylak of Troy, Shane Hernandez of Port Huron and Jim Runestad of White Lake Township, provides for injunctive relief if a public body is not in compliance with the Open Meetings Act. Under HB 6411, an individual who brings forth a civil action due to an alleged lack of compliance would be awarded court costs and attorney fees if a court deems there was an Open Meetings Act violation.

“For decades, the Open Meetings Act has been an integral part of transparency within our state government,” Howrylak said. “It’s essential that we continue to protect it.”

Enacted in 1977 to increase government openness and transparency, the Open Meetings Act holds that meetings of a public body must be open to the public and closed door meetings can only occur under limited exemptions. Under this act, a “public body” is broadly defined as: any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council, that is empowered by state constitution, statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, or rule to exercise governmental or proprietary authority or perform a governmental or proprietary function; a lessee of such a body performing an essential public purpose and function pursuant to the lease agreement.

The reforms proposed under HB 6411 are necessary in light of the Speicher v Columbia Township Board of Trustees case (2014). In that case, Speicher sued the Columbia Township Board of Trustees under the Open Meetings Act and was awarded the recovery of attorney fees. The Michigan Supreme Court raised questions regarding the Court of Appeals’ decision to award attorney fees under the Open Meetings Act (MCL 15.261 et seq.). The Supreme Court argued that the plain language in the Open Meetings Act indicates that a person may not recover court costs or attorney fees unless he or she succeeds in obtaining injunctive relief.

“Michigan residents should not be put in a position where they are paying out of pocket to make sure their government is following the law,” Runestad said. “Whenever you have something on the books addressing compliance, there needs to be an efficient and fair deterrent.”

The proposal has been referred to the House Law and Justice Committee for consideration.

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