Quick hits: On FOIA, foreclosures, human trafficking
Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law legislation that improves Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.
The new regulations increase government accountability by making it easier for citizens to access public records.
The FOIA allows citizens and the media to obtain information from local or state governments. It also allows governments to charge a reasonable fee for any paperwork involved. But, unfortunately, too often public officials have attempted to thwart the law through extended or indefinite delays in providing the documents or by charging exorbitant fees.
The legislation standardizes costs that local governments can charge. The law calls for a fee of 10 cents a page per copy. It also penalizes a municipality if the FOIA request is not filled in a timely fashion.
There is nothing more important to a democratic society than an open government. To this end, the new law increases transparency, something that should be a goal of all governmental officials.
Foreclosure figures continue positive trend
For the fourth straight year the foreclosure figures offer good news about the housing market.
In fact, Metro Detroit hit a new low last year, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine, California, company that follows housing trends and specializes in foreclosure data.
The six-county Detroit area had 12,535 default notices, sheriff's auctions and bank repossessions of property in 2014, a 42 percent drop from 21,757 foreclosure filings in 2013.
The 2014 number was a fraction of the 79,623 filings recorded in the Detroit area at the height of mortgage crisis in 2010. It is still considerably below the 35,601 filings made in 2006, when RealtyTrac began tracing the numbers here.
However, reports that lawmakers want to change lending standards to promote more home ownership are troubling. Fiscally responsible standards are fine, but if the standards are loosened, as suggested, that could lead to more problems in the future.
Human trafficking laws are good step
A package of tough new laws are taking effect that are expected to make a major dent in the human trafficking and sexual coercion crimes in Michigan.
The laws range from harsher penalties for perpetrators of the modern-day version of slavery to state protection for juveniles rescued from the sex trade.
Gov. Rick Snyder has signed 18 of 21 anti-human trafficking bills into law that are expected to give prosecutors and law enforcement agencies more ammunition in fighting these horrid crimes.
However, some question how effective the laws can be unless lawmakers and Snyder follow up with significant state funding to provide shelters and other services for victims. The money wasn't included in the legislative package.
While financial concerns are legitimate, the laws needed to get on the books as soon as possible. The Legislature should deal with any funding problems as they arise.