MIDLAND, Mich. — Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act is fundamentally broken and must be reformed. A new policy brief from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy reviews the current law and offers improvements to ensure the government becomes more accountable to the public.
The state’s Freedom of Information Act exists to help citizens hold their government accountable by granting the public access to records, documents, correspondence and other information created or used by public entities. This helps to inform the public about how their government is run and how their tax dollars are spent.
Unfortunately, government entities have consistently abused FOIA by charging excessive fees, inappropriately delaying requests and using broad redactions to conceal information. The law also contains loopholes that make it increasingly difficult for citizens to obtain public records. In many cases, the requester has no choice but to file a lawsuit to try to get information.
The brief addresses these problems and many more by providing an extensive rewrite of the law. The goal of these recommendations is to ensure citizens have greater access to public information by placing the burden on the public body rather on than the requester.
Proposed solutions in the brief include:
Ending excessive delays by requiring that all records be produced in no more than 15 days. If the public body cannot do so, it can request an extension following legal review.
Requiring a public body to identify each individual exemption for every redaction and provide a specific description of why the exemption applies.
Subjecting the governor’s office and the Legislature to FOIA, with no special carveouts or exemptions.
Reworking the fee structure so that any additional work done to review and redact materials (except those required by law) are at the expense of the public body, not the requester.
Eliminating the frequently misapplied “frank communications” exemption.
Creating a new bipartisan board to address FOIA-related disputes.
Lawmakers seeking to reform FOIA can use this brief as a guide to change Michigan from one of the least transparent states to one of the most.
“It is well past time for bold and meaningful reforms to Michigan’s transparency laws,” said Steve Delie, director of transparency and open government at the Mackinac Center. “Governor Whitmer and both past and present legislatures have consistently failed to enact even minor reforms. This inaction has enabled the government to misapply state law and thwart the public’s access to information. These revisions are a roadmap for policymakers who want to enact transformational change.”
The Mackinac Center submits thousands of public records requests each year. We represent individuals who face challenges when seeking public records and also sue on our own behalf.
Read the policy brief here. Learn more about the Center’s work on improving government transparency here.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
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