Senate Majority leader blocks FOI bill

Lame duck Senate majority leader Republican Randy Richardville seems determined to block public access to the people’s governments by refusing to bring HB 4001 for a vote in his Governmental Affairs Committee and to the Senate floor.

It is a flawed governance system that allows a committee chair to, in effect, veto legislation, by refusing to bring it up for a vote.

HB 4001 which makes long overdue and much needed improvements to the state’s Freedom of Information law was overwhelmingly approved 102-8  in a bipartisan vote in the state House last March.

It arrived in the Senate for consideration and has been languishing there since March 25. That’s exactly where Richardville wants it to stay until the current session ends and the bill dies.

Both liberals and conservatives see many positives for this bill. Michael Reitz, an MiCOG board member and executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, wrote a terrific column at MLive.com, on the issue last week.

A primary opponent of the bill is the Michigan Municipal League (MML). Its lobbyists insist local governments are overworked already and would be inconvenienced by these changes in the law. Maybe those who object  should remember that they are supposed to be working for the people within their communities. And though some citizens have abused the FOI laws making outrageous and unreasonable requests, they are a very, very tiny contingent.

The  Internet has made transparency cheap and easy, and many citizens from pre-schoolers through seniors are web savvy, It is inexpensive and easy for local governments to post information like agendas, minutes, proposals, salaries, awarded bids and other records and data online. Yet some local governments and school districts are unwilling to provide its citizens that sort of access. If they do so, staff time responding to requests for basic information could be reduced significantly–further negating the MML’s position.

HB 4001’s key changes correct several  weaknesses in the current FOIA. It standardizes copying charges to 10 cents/page; mandates that a public body create specific fees and  guidelines for charges and procedures; posts that information on its website (if it has one) or provides it for free to a requester if it does not;  reduces by 10 percent per day (up to 50 percent) fees that are assessed if the public body does not respond within the time allotted under the FOIA (five business days maximum with an additional 10 business days, if necessary). A fee reduction would only occur if the delay is willful or intentional or if the requestor communicated near the beginning of the request that this is a FOIA matter.

And, importantly, the charge for labor costs which many times leads to those unacceptably high fees would exclude fringe benefits– a significant step in helping reduce costs.

HB 4001 is a good fix for a law that’s effectiveness has been compromised during the last four decades. With the support of 102 Representatives from both parties, the House did a good job for the people it serves. It’s time for the Senate to stop stalling, move HB 4001 out of committee and approve it.

Please join the effort to help Michigan move forward and become a state known nationwide for its openness and responsiveness to the citizens it serves.

Please contact your state senator and tell him/her to support HB 4001. You can also call the members of the Governmental Affairs Committee and tell them to have the courage to represent the interests of the people and approve HB 4001.

Government Affairs Committee Members are:

 

 

 

ike Reitz

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