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State House panel OKs bill making public info requests easier, cheaper

Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Capitol Building, Lansing, MI

State lawmakers are moving forward with a bill they hope would make public information requests easier and cheaper.

A state House panel unanimously approved House Bill 4001 Tuesday. It would put limits on how much government offices could charge for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The measure would also increase penalties for public agencies that don’t respond to requests in a timely manner.

“We have been very careful about making sure we’re not putting additional burdens onto local entities and government agencies,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). “But yet, at the same time, we’ve given citizens and those requesting information some additional teeth.”

Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) chairs the panel that approved the bill. He says it could also make some FOIA requests unnecessary.

“I think what this is going to end up doing is driving a lot of (government offices) to put stuff on the internet, put it out there,” said McMillin. “I mean, that’s what they ought to be doing anyway.”

Many groups representing local governments oppose the bill. They worry the legislation will add extra burdens and costs.

The bill now goes to the full state House. Supporters are confident it will clear the chamber before the end of the year.

Rep. McMillin is sponsoring another bill that would create a state commission to moderate disputes over FOIA requests. But he says that legislation is not yet ready to move out of his committee.