[posted by Mike Murray]
* Yesterday, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association and the Illinois Municipal League sent separate letters to Gov. Quinn that lobbied against the proposed FOIA rewrite bill, which passed both chambers by a total vote of 174-1 and is currently sitting on Gov. Quinn’s desk.
The letters deal with different specific areas for concern, but in general, both organizations are opposed to the rewrite of FOIA if it creates a public access counselor…
In separate letters to Quinn, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association and Illinois Municipal League portray the new FOIA bill as too costly, a threat to law enforcement, an undue burden on local governments and a usurpation of prosecutors’ duties by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, among many other things.
Of particular concern to both groups is what we consider perhaps the most important part of the new Freedom of Information Act: the establishment of a Public Access Counselor within the attorney general’s office who would act as the final authority in cases where a government body has denied a request for records, documents or other information.
* There is a good deal of skepticism in in the policy community regarding the true motivations for their opposition to bill…
Under the bill, local governments can forward FOIA requests to the public access counselor, abide by whatever decision the counselor makes and be released from all legal liability. Citizens denied requests can also seek review from the public access counselor. That’s a good deal for citizens and for government, Smith said.
“In fact, this bill makes your [municipalities] life easier,” Smith said. “We are here and in need of this law because public bodies and municipalities and the state has thumbed its nose at FOIA on the backs of citizens for years and years and years and years.
“I think public bodies have gotten very comfortable with a toothless law,” Smith said.
* Phil Kadner also questions their motivations…
Brown said he was surprised the letter has generated “so much attention.”
Maybe he is unaware that for 20 years good government groups have been trying to rewrite the law. Maybe he’s unaware that powerful public officials in this state have always opposed it.
All I know for sure is that state’s attorneys throughout Illinois, who have never done anything to make the bad old law tougher, don’t like the new and improved one.
And that makes me wonder who they’re really representing.
* And the SJ-R Editorial Board does not pull any punches…
The Illinois Municipal League, meanwhile, tells Quinn that the new FOIA bill is nothing less than a threat to public safety.
“It is regrettable that there may be cases where municipalities will be forced to lay off firefighters and police officers so that they can afford more FOIA lawyers and other responders to help comply with this ‘primary duty,’” the IML writes.
The IML goes on for six pages listing details of problems it sees with the bill, but we will boil them down to this: This law will make it way more difficult for government bodies to deny citizen requests for government records, documents and information.
Likewise, we’ll summarize the state’s attorneys’ objection to creation of the PAC system: This law threatens our power, even though it’s power we’ve almost never used before.
I don’t know if their motivations are sinister or not, but it’s hard not to have questions.
* Problems with Proposed Lobbying Changes: One of the hit-or-miss bills that passed the General Assembly this year was SB 54, which, among other things, made substantial changes to the Lobbyist Registration Act (LRA). The genesis of the LRA portion of the bill is plainly found in HB 736, which ICPR supported, but SB 54 differs in some key ways.