By Jessica Mathews /

A bi-partisan plan that aims to improve ethics and transparency laws for government officials was approved by the state House Wednesday.

Elected state officials would be required to disclose personal financial information in annual reports and would be banned from becoming lobbyists until two years after leaving office under the plan. Michigan is among just two states where lawmakers do not have to file disclosure reports, which can reveal conflicts of interest.

The legislation would mandate that legislators, the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and other state officers submit financial forms. But they would be kept secret until the officials' exit office - drawing dissent from about three-dozen House members in what otherwise is a government ethics and transparency package with broad support. A committee of lawmakers in each chamber would have the confidential information and rule on potential ethics and conflict of interest violations. The State Ethics Board would make similar determinations for other officeholders.

Republican State Representative Ann Bollin of Brighton Township led conversations on the proposal in the House as chair of the Elections and Ethics Committee. She commented in a press release that public confidence in state government seems to be near an all-time low and the time for real change is long overdue – noting the bills add more accountability for legislators through a bi-partisan committee dedicated to enforcing ethics and conflicts of interest laws and tougher penalties for legislators and lobbyists who act unethically.

Democratic State Representative David LaGrand of Grand Rapids criticized the financial disclosure measures, saying they effectively ask voters to trust lawmaker-run committees that would be exempt from the Open Meetings Act. “That has the potential to trigger blackmail dynamics. It certainly looks like a swamp. It doesn’t look like draining a swamp”.

The bills were sent to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Other measures would require that money spent to lobby legislative and gubernatorial staff be disclosed and authorize each chamber to suspend the salary and expense allowance of a legislator who acts unethically or is excessively absent.