A rare opportunity to affirm the spirit and intent of Michigan's Freedom of Information Act may be slipping away. House Bill 4001 would improve citizen access to public records by capping document copying costs, reducing fees when government agencies miss disclosure deadlines and increase financial penalties on agencies that improperly deny release of their documents. Those are simple, common-sense steps that don't impose any major burdens or restrictions on government agencies; rather, they reinforce the intent of Michigan's Freedom of Information Act to make the public's business public. That's how members of the state House saw it ó they approved HB 4001 by a whopping margin of 102-8 in March.
Alas, the bill has failed to advance in the Senate, languishing without action in the Senate Government Operations Committee. The bill's only hope for passage may lie in the post-election lame duck season, where it easily could be lost in the crush of last-minute action.
That would be a shame. HB 4001 would be a definite benefit for journalists investigating government operations; almost every journalist has experienced a case in which government employees try to deter their work by engaging in delaying tactics or charging disproportionate fees for accessing public records. Continue>>>