Michigan lawmakers are studying a collection of changes to the state’s open records law, the Freedom of Information Act. In a nation founded on the principle of government of the people, by the people and for the people, they must keep public access to the activities of government as a top priority.
To that end, bills that extend public accountability and that ease the process in favor of citizens deserve prompt consideration and passage.
Bills that would add additional limits to public information ultimately will cloak government activities and shield government officials from accountability. Such measures should be avoided.
Several changes are proposed that strengthen FOIA and will help Michigan citizens keep track of meaningful information about their government and its activities.
n House Bill 4001, sponsored by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would cap copying fees at 10 cents per page and clarify guidelines for charging. Such a measure is needed to keep costs of using the law affordable to citizens and others who want access to information. It also will provide a standard approach and end some offices’ practices of charging high fees to either discourage requests or try to turn them into a revenue producing activity.
n House Bill 4236 would make records pertaining to work done by private contractors hired to replace state employees available under FOIA. This is a fair and reasonable change; work being done on behalf of taxpayers belongs to the taxpayers. And again, access allows citizens to assess the quality of work done by government employees and contractors. It is essential to accountability.
n HB 4314 would create an Open Government Commission to address complaints about FOIA requests. It would be an affordable alternative to going into circuit court to resolve conflicts.
n Senate Bill 202 would add the Michigan Legislature to the list of public bodies subject to FOIA disclosure. Frankly, that is a change long overdue. Lawmakers should expect to be held to the highest accountability.
Changes that do not serve citizens well include efforts to restrict access to 911 recordings and efforts to exempt from FOIA documents about the licensing, purchase, carrying or possession of guns in Michigan. Keeping both records open and accessible allows citizens to monitor the performance of law enforcement.
Lansing State Journal