Proposed Michigan bill would limit fees for public records

MICHIGAN — A proposed Michigan bill would amend the state’s Freedom of Information Act to limit fees and increase the consequences for delays in responding to requests.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson County), would limit the copying costs to a maximum 10 cents a page. For labor fees, public agencies would only be allowed to charge an hourly wage of the lowest paid employee capable of retrieving the information, according to the proposed bill.

Under the proposed bill:

  • Fees will be reduced by 20 percent a day for requests filled after the deadline;
  • State agencies can no longer charge for inspection of records;
  • Agencies cannot charge to redact exempt information unless not doing so would create “unreasonably high costs because of the nature of the request in the particular instance”;
  • If the request is denied and the case is brought to court, agencies cannot cite new reasons for denying the request beyond those given in the original denial. 

Public record requests have been an issue for Michigan journalists for years, said Lisa McGraw, the Michigan Press Association’s public affairs manager .

“There are pretty severe inconsistencies across the board as far as fees go,” McGraw said. “Some counties charge a lot, some give it to you.”

Shirkey introduced the bill after a constituent complained of the high cost of open records requests, according to a press release. The Michigan Press Association also provided examples of their open records experiences for Shirkey, McGraw said.

Michigan Daily Editor-in-Chief Joseph Lichterman said his paper has frequently faced issues with fees when determining what documents the student newspaper could obtain.

“I know for us our budget is limited and we’d love to FOIA lots of things and get all kinds of documents but a lot of times we can’t afford it because we can’t pay hundreds and hundreds and thousands of dollars to get these documents,” Lichterman said. “It’d be nice if there was a cap on how much they could charge you.”

Time delays are also a big problem, McGraw said. The bill doesn’t change how long agencies have to respond to record requests. Agencies have five business days to either grant or deny the request; they may request an additional 10 business days to respond.

In one particular instance, an agency denied parts of a records request made by Michigan State’s student newspaper, The State News, because they said it was a bad time of year for the request, McGraw said.
By Bailey McGowan SPLC staff writer. Contact McGowan by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.

Read the proposed legislation