2017-12-17 / Editorial

FOIA works to keep ’em honest

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who announced in September that he’s running for governor, is not a friend to citizens and the press who want to use public information to keep government honest.

This week an organization called Vice News released the results of a nine-month investigation into police shootings nationwide. Notably missing from the report was data from Detroit. In Vice’s own word that’s because, “The Detroit Police Dept. said it would take up to 3,120 business days and cost at least $77,532 to retrieve records that other departments made available online for free.”

The Detroit Police Dept. may not have the greatest record when it comes to transparency, but they’re hardly the only one to do this. Vice used many sources to obtain information for its report, including the Freedom of Information Act. Michigan’s FOIA laws are particularly bad. When it comes to complying with the spirit of FOIA, many municipalities in Michigan use legal hair-splitting and high cost and time estimates to put up a high, thick wall between the public and public information.

Schuette in a recent opinion said, “It’s perfectly ok to take a long time to fill a FOIA request, so long as you’re making some sort of effort to actually do it.”

Schuette’s opinion came out this week in response to a letter from State Rep. Gary Glenn, which asked Schuette to clarify one particularly gray area of Michigan’s FOIA law: how long public institutions have to actually produce records once they’ve granted a FOIA request.

In Michigan, the law states: the public agency is given five days to respond. Officials can ask for a 10-day extension, so in practical terms there’s a 15-day window to grant the request, or give a reason for denying it.

Essentially Schuette said public officials should be trusted to come up their own timeline, guided by the idea of a “best efforts estimate.” Really?

There are times when local and state officials want to stonewall the public and the press. The Flint water crisis is a perfect example. Much of the information important to breaking the tragic story wide open was because of reporting that came from FOIA.

It’s disturbing that Schuette wants to allow government to say “trust us” and permit agencies to drag their feet on releasing information they know will reflect poorly on them. Following the holiday break, when the Legislature is back in session we hope Rep. Gary Howell and the Legislature will do something about yet another over-reach by Schuette who ignores the will of the people.

A step in the right direction

The County Press has published many stories that quote Lapeer County law enforcement and healthcare officials about the opioid crisis in our community. It’s bad and getting worse.

There may be some help to quell the epidemic that is gripping Lapeer County and communities across the state.

There’s a stack of bills aimed at combating the opioid crisis headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder. Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed bipartisan legislation Wednesday. The objective is to limit the amount of opioids available to people who don’t need them.

That bill is aimed at curbing “doctor shopping.” It would require patients have a bona-fide relationship with a doctor who prescribes an opiate. Another bill would require that doctors check a special registry to see a patient’s prescription history before prescribing certain drugs.

One bill would limit how much opioids a doctor can prescribe for patients being treated for acute pain. Doctors would not be able to prescribe more than a seven-day supply of an opioid within a seven-day period.

The less opioids in circulation the less opportunity that high school students would have drugs to hold “Skittle parties,” in which teenagers drop a handful of pills they’ve obtained at home or elsewhere into a bowl for mass consumption by those in attendance.

The medical community needs to do a better job to police themselves to reduce the over-prescription of opioids. The proposed legislation may help this happen.

It’s start in the right direction.

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