State Agency Wants $1,500 for a No-Cost Electronic File

State liquor commission charged for copying paper files not wanted

When Mike LaFaive visited the Michigan Liquor Control Commission's Lansing office in the course of research he was doing, he asked an employee for copies of a spreadsheet and some other public records. The staffer responded that the information could be provided that day if he had a flash drive.

Circumstances did not permit this, so LaFaive, the fiscal policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, later submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request asking for the records. The state agency then told him that if he wanted the information, he would have to pay $1,500 to cover the cost of making paper copies at 25 cents per page. LaFaive advised the Commission he did not want paper copies. Nevertheless, the MLCC still refused to provide the electronic records without charging the disputed costs for paper copies.

On Thursday, the Mackinac Center filed a lawsuit in Midland County Circuit Court over what it described as illegal copying fees.

Jason Moon, spokesman for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the liquor commission, said they hadn't been served with the lawsuit and declined comment at this time.

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House Bill 4001 (2013) was recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder and takes effect July 1. That law states, “The requestor may stipulate that the public records be provided on nonpaper physical media, electronically mailed, or otherwise electronically provided to him or her in lieu of paper copies.”

Robin Luce-Herrmann, general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, said there is a gray area involved in what the government can charge for electronic copies.

“There aren’t any specific guidelines that govern how you charge for the electronic media,” Luce-Herrmann said. “It is going to depend on what they have to do to provide the electronic version. If it is simply making a copy of a spreadsheet and you don’t have to redact any information, it’s simply the person’s time in copying the information and sending it to you in an email. And if they need to redact something, they need to tell you.”

LaFaive said he was never told redactions were necessary for the requested documents.

“This is information that an MLCC employee had already told us existed electronically,” said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, in a press release. “It would be like trying to charge for making photocopies when the photocopies already exist.”

Wilcox said the $1,500 charge for the paper copies was designed to be a roadblock to the public’s access to information.

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See also:

How CapCon Uses Transparency Laws To Hold Government Accountable

Government Entities Stymie FOIA Requests To Hide Information

Court Order City To Comply With FOIA

City Sued Over FOIA Fees


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