The House Oversight committee passed out HB 4001, the bill making many changes to FOIA. The substitute that was adopted can be viewed here: HB 4001 H-2. While the substitute has improved from the introduced version, the League still has concerns and is opposed to this legislation. The League along with two attorneys for the city of Ann Arbor were prepared to offer testimony with our concerns but the bill was passed out of committee with no testimony taken.
We do appreciate the opportunity we had to be involved in the workgroup held early in July and are pleased to see there is now an internal appeal process that must be exhausted (if the municipality offers an internal process) prior to commencing an action in the courts to try and resolve any disputes. Additionally, we do appreciate the time and labor calculations are now to be made on a total sum basis instead of individually broken out into the multiple new invoice categories as in a previous version.
However, Governmental entities are still not able to recover the true cost of the FOIA request, one of our existing concerns with the legislation. The legislation specifically states benefits are not to be used in calculating the cost of FOIA. Medical insurance and other benefits are a large portion of a person’s hourly labor cost. Local municipalities do not stop providing an employee’s benefits while they are working on these requests. Not being allowed to recover the true cost means every other tax payer in the municipality is now subsidizing the request. Additionally, the language still states that all partial time increments when calculating labor costs must be rounded down, again, not allowing for the true cost of the request to be recovered.
Rep. Jim Townsend offered up a handful of amendments, two of them (clarification pieces) were accepted. One that he offered would have allowed a municipality to include benefits when calculating the labor charges but that was voted down.
The League will continue, with the help from the municipal attorneys who have been so gracious in providing their feedback and assistance on this, to work on this issue to make sure as many of our concerns are addressed as possible.
Nikki Brown is a legislative associate for the League handling economic development issues. She can be reached at email@example.com or 517-908-0305.