Government Transparency Bill Stalled in Senate

Michigan House passed bill six months ago

It’s been six months since the Michigan House passed House Bill 4001, but the Senate has taken no action on it apart from referring the bill to the Government Operations Committee.

The bill, which drew bipartisan support in the House, promotes government transparency and accountability by modernizing the state’s Freedom of Information Act. This law enables residents and journalists to request and obtain government records. The Mackinac Center relies on FOIA to conduct its public policy research and to promote government accountability; each year we file hundreds of FOIA requests.

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A common complaint about the public records law is the cost imposed on individuals who request records. Agencies charge a per-page copying fee, as well as a search fee for a public employee to locate and copy the record. Stories of agencies charging exorbitant fees are common; the Mackinac Center holds the distinction of receiving a $6.8 million bill from the Michigan State Police for one FOIA request. (We chose to forego obtaining the records in order to avoid incurring a cost that exceeds our annual budget.)

Introduced by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, HB 4001 received careful consideration in the House and incorporated feedback from multiple organizations. The version passed by the House is designed to control how much agencies can charge the public for turning over public records. The bill also increases penalties that can be imposed on agencies that improperly withhold records.

Transparency shouldn’t be viewed as an extra cost or burden borne by public agencies; rather, it should be seen as a vital function of government. HB 4001 helps accomplish this worthy priority.  


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