O’Brien, Schuitmaker support plan to increase government transparency

LANSING, Mich. — State Senators Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, and Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, expressed support for legislation announced Wednesday that would help increase transparency within state government.

The legislation, which was discussed at a press conference Wednesday morning, was introduced in the House of Representatives. The 10-bill, bipartisan plan would add to the state’s Freedom of Information Act the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and create the Legislative Open Records Act.

“Good governance is built on a bedrock of transparency,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We believe the more open government is, the better it can serve Michigan taxpayers. We appreciate the leadership of our House colleagues and are happy to partner with them on this important issue.”

The senators have long supported increasing government transparency. While on the Portage City Council, O’Brien fought for more transparency, including putting the City Council packets and city’s check register online. Last year, Schuitmaker was recognized for her efforts by the Michigan Press Association during its annual Sunshine Week.

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Bills introduced to crack down on schools’ use of seclusion and physical restraint of students

Senator Margaret O'Brien

Senator Margaret O’Brien

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan’s public school districts would no longer be able to place students into seclusion or in physical restraint, except in specific cases of emergency, under legislation introduced on Tuesday.

“On August 25, 2003, a 15-year-old boy named Michael died from prolonged physical restraint in Kalamazoo County on the first day of the school year,” said Senator Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage. “It should have been like any other day, but instead a life ended. No one intended to harm a student, which is why Kalamazoo now has a program to train all teachers in proper restraint and seclusion. Today, this legislation will ensure all teachers in Michigan get the same training. As a mother, I know how precious our children are and I want all Michigan children to be safe at school.”

O’Brien cited the Kalamazoo case as a prime example for why changes are needed.

O’Brien’s legislation is part of a 10-bill, bipartisan and bicameral package. The bill would establish a uniform policy in Michigan regarding the use of seclusion and physical restraint. The statewide policy for public schools would have the following objectives:

  • Promote the care, safety, welfare and security of school communities and protect learning opportunities for all students;
  • Encourage the use of proactive, effective, evidence-based and researched-based strategies and best practices to eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint, and reduce or eliminate the use of emergency seclusion and restraint; and
  • Clearly define seclusion, restraint, emergency seclusion and emergency physical restraint, and state procedures for the use of emergency seclusion and physical restraint.

The legislation stems, in part, from recommendations developed from public hearings and a survey conducted by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley on how to address issues facing special needs students in the state. Nearly 25 percent of those survey respondents indicated their children had been held in seclusion or physically restrained.

The Michigan Board of Education (MDE) currently has a policy to limit the use of these practices to instances involving imminent danger. But the MDE policy is voluntary and lacks the force of law.

The bills were referred to the respective education committees in the Senate and House for consideration.

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