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Bill would eliminate fees, shorten turnaround for public records

Vincent Duffy
Michigan Radio

A bill in the state House would eliminate fees for getting documents under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.  The bill would also give public entities only ten calendar days to comply with a FOIA request.

The bill was introduced by State Representative LaTanya Garrett (D-7th District).

One group that's been fighting for better FOIA laws says the bill may go too far. Jarett Skorup is with the free-market think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The Center has filed several high-profile lawsuits over excessive FOIA delays. Skorup agrees some agencies charge excessive fees for complying with FOIA in an attempt to skirt the law.

"But what we don't want is people filing frivolous requests," says Skorup.  He says no fees at all might encourage frivoulous FOIAs.

"And we don't want to overly burden these small townships or school districts where they have to spend a lot of time and effort tracking down documents," says Skorup, "because there are costs to doing that, and if the person requesting the document doesn't pay them, the taxpayers will have to."

Skorup says his group would like to see changes made to the state's FOIA law that seek a middle ground.

Other legislators have introduced bills to make the governor's office and state Legislature subject to FOIA.  

Michigan is the only state in the nation that exempts them from FOIA laws.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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