Lawmakers Have Hang-ups With 900 Numbers

March 17, 2003
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Republican State Senators Tony Stamas and Laura Toy are introducing and supporting a bill that would prohibit state agencies from charging Michigan residents for public information via fee-based telephone numbers. The policy — initiated during former Gov. John Engler’s first term — has not been challenged until now, and is long past due for review.

The proposed Senate bill was, in part, the result of a suit filed by a Wayne County chiropractor, who has been incredulous that his patients have been charged to access state information regarding whether doctors were licensed and in good standing. Midland Sen. Stamas finds insult in the fact that Michigan consumers are being charged for public information, but Grand Rapids Business Journal finds it far more insidious.

The 900 phone numbers for the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services is of particular interest to Michigan residents for the expansive reservoir of information related to every type of business — and job — in the state. To add insult to injury, the bureaucracy that greets the caller is automated, which is not to be confused with less time consuming. Once the caller is (hopefully) properly routed, the charges continue as more choices are considered or an actual person attempts to help (help-by-number in the parking lot of calls.)

The good senators also should acknowledge that businesses have certainly paid their premiums to the state, not only in fees but also in required forms. Businesses are being charged twice: once for required state filing and again to retrieve any information, even if it is information provided by the business. To have such information held hostage by charges is the ultimate bureaucratic insult, especially considering the public’s right to know (be they consumer or industry).

It would not be surprising that journalists, who are dependent upon research and fact-finding, also have protested the state charges through the Michigan Press Association, as should other research-intensive businesses.

The public relations department of the MDCIS has been surprised by the complaints, and believes them to be necessary to pay $45,000 each to two telephone attendants. Hello? The state agency reports it makes no profit on the “service.” How else could these extra charges be construed after the business fees paid or in view of the necessity of a state database? To suggest so alternately implies elimination of such charges would be of no consequence to the real state budget issues.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has spent more than a year asserting that state government belongs to the residents of Michigan, and that access to state government and policy are paramount. The added insult of impeding such access should be corrected without delay. The effect of such policy is not debatable.              

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