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Reformers blast new FOIA bill

Monday, Dec 1, 2014 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Illinois Public Radio

Illinois residents could have a harder time accessing government information under new legislation before the General Assembly.

The plan, SB2799, makes it harder for people to get repaid legal costs when a government wrongfully denies access to public documents.

At the same time, it makes it easier for governments to keep certain information off-limits.

Groups such as the Better Government Association, the Illinois Press Association (a representative there called the measure the most egregious changes to FOIA since the law was restructured) and the Attorney General’s office are fighting it.

Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General, says it will make it incredibly more difficult to obtain public information that taxpayers are owed.

* From Illinois PIRG…

“Transparency in government checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system,” said Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois PIRG. “This bill moves Illinois in the wrong direction and should be rejected.”

“Democracy is meaningless without a responsible, informed, and active citizenry. In turn, strong public record request laws are essential to inform of the public of government activity,” said Maryam Judar, Executive Director of the Citizen Advocacy Center. “This bill distorts Illinois democracy by limiting people’s access to information about their government activity. The House should not allow this provision to pass.”

The bill makes three significant changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

    · When a government official publicly cites a report or study, the entire report is currently subject to public records requests. Under this bill, only the specific section cited would be open to disclosure. This limits the public’s ability to see supporting documentation, methodology, and possibly conflicting findings in a document being cited in government decision making.

    · The bill would allow government bodies to withhold documents that are primarily factual so long as they include at least one recommendation.

    · The bill would significantly curtail a citizen’s ability to win legal fees from a government body when they violate FOIA. This would significantly limit the public’s ability to hold government bodies accountable when they illegally withhold public documents.

Combined, these changes would significantly limit information accessible to the public and make it easier for government bodies to skirt transparency laws.

The legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, has been assigned to the totally wired Executive Committee, which meets this afternoon at 4. The underlying shell bill is sponsored by Speaker Madigan.


  1. - Downstate GOP Faithless - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 12:43 pm:

    So in an era of transparency, in a state where transparency is at least a perceived issue, we are going to make it easier for the Government to pay for and then suppress information? Seems to be the wrong way for the legislature to head

  2. - Angry Chicagoan - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 12:45 pm:

    I’d like the good government people in Hyde Park to notice that their representative is at the forefront of this. And that it’s getting pushed in the lame duck.

  3. - Federalist - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 12:47 pm:

    Currie, another Democrat liberal who shows very illiberal, un-democratic tendencies.

    And Madigan, what would you expect?

  4. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 12:47 pm:

    Let’s remember the old adage about not getting terribly excited over every bill filing, even when it is filed by The Speaker.

  5. - Political Animal - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 12:53 pm:

    What we need is legislation to make FOIA broader and more transparency-friendly, not less.

  6. - in the know - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 12:58 pm:

    I totally disagree with this bill. All government attorney opinions should be disclosed to the public and we should impose treble attorneys fees on any successful FOIA requested, maybe even mandatory minimum $50k punitive damages! After all, why should government policy makers get the benefit of competent confidential legal advice, and who cares if the government is making a good faith legal argument about the applicability of FOIA? Plaintiffs attorneys need to get PAID and its the duty of the taxpayer to do so!

  7. - Just Observing - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:04 pm:

    Shame on any legislator that supports this bill!

  8. - Will23 - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:05 pm:

    This legislation takes the attention away from HB3796 — the other anti-transparency bill that’s likely being taken up by the Senate this week.

    I agree this legislation is bad for FOIA filers and the media, but I equally think it conveniently distracts us from the HB3796…the one that has a greater chance of passing during the veto session.

    Yes, HB3796 may not do as much damage per se, it’s bad news for taxpayers that deserve access to information.

    It’s the old switcheroo…”Now, now…you shouldn’t be upset with us overriding HB3796. At least we didn’t pass SB2799, the one that essentially strips the state’s FOIA law down to nothing.”

  9. - Downstate GOP Faithless - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:20 pm:

    I wonder where the outgoing Treasurer stands on this?

  10. - Bradley VanHoose - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:20 pm:

    Anyone who googles my name …Bradley VanHoose, Village of Caseyville, Illinois, SWIC and you will see a FOIA battle of epic proportions. If this does not convince you vote against weaking The Illinois Freedom of Information Act, I dont know what will. Shame on any lawmaker who supports bill 2799….SHAME ON THEM.

  11. - Ahoy! - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:25 pm:

    I actually not opposed to curtailing a citizen’s ability to win legal fees from a government body when they violate FOIA. At the end of the day the taxpayers lose that money, we should revisit other mechanisms or another appeals process instead of punishing tax payers, I just have to think there is a better way.

  12. - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:46 pm:

    Um, Mr. VanHoose, you are what is known as a serial FOIA filer. I’ve dealt with people like you and we ignore you. For good reason.

  13. - Under Further Review - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 2:03 pm:

    This is a really blatant power grab. I carry no brief for “serial FOIA” filers, but I have had experience with bona fide FOIA requests being wrongfully denied by local governments. Thankfully, the AG FOIA request specialist instructed the unit of government that the requests were reasonable and not unduly burdensome. The municipality was ordered to comply with the requests.

  14. - Mouthy - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 2:25 pm:

    - Demoralized - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 1:46 pm:

    Um, Mr. VanHoose, you are what is known as a serial FOIA filer. I’ve dealt with people like you and we ignore you. For good reason.

    Yes, I can see how guys like Mr VanHoose, who apparently wants to see some checks written from the Caseyville hotel/motel fund, would bother guys like you…

  15. - Read the bill - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 2:44 pm:

    The bill does not get rid of attorneys’ fees for requesters - in fact, it expands the right to attorneys’ fees so it will apply even when a public body voluntarily turns over records or settles litigation. That will discourage public bodies from settling these disputes, costing taxpayers even more money and further delaying when the requester can get the records.

  16. - anon - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 2:46 pm:

    The one reform that is needed is to attach penalties for violations of FOIA, which are now penalty-free.

  17. - Ghost - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 3:21 pm:

    The main problem with foia is the time frames to respond are way to short. You get at least 30 days for discovery, they should be extended.

    That said most reporters are pretty cooperative in agreeing to go beyond the time frames in the law.

    Lawyer fees imho should not be available unless the court finds there was no good faith basis for believing the information was protected. This is tax payer money we spend when these cases are lost. And if the public body believes in good faith they are properly excluding information; the public is not served by paying legal fees in this instance imho.

  18. - Ghost - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 3:23 pm:

    One follow up; that state needs to upgrade its antiquated fiscal, budget, personnel, and grants records systems (or lack thereof). In an ideal world they would use a single enterprise system with a publics self service portal for information. Skip the need to submit a foia request, just make it searchable online.

  19. - yinn - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 3:39 pm:

    ==Um, Mr. VanHoose, you are what is known as a serial FOIA filer. I’ve dealt with people like you and we ignore you. For good reason.==

    My municipality occasionally misuses the FOIA exemptions for preliminary drafts and collective bargaining. I hope the loopholes get closed up one day. But, never have citizen requesters been ignored. I have a brand new picture of the commenter called “demoralized” and it ain’t pretty.

  20. - Hoping for Rational Thought - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 4:20 pm:

    SO out of curiosity I looked up VanHooose. I didn’t look at everything but the AG found in his favor and issued a binding opinion against Caseyville. Caseyville IGNORED and NEVER responded to the AG’s inquiries.

    That is flat out wrong. You don’t need to know all the details to know that if a public body IGNORES the State AG that something is rotten. Unbelievable.

    This bill is bad. It does reduce transparency and their is no good reason for it.

  21. - Anyone Remember - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 4:28 pm:

    Ghost -
    “In an ideal world they would use a single enterprise system with a publics self service portal for information.”

    BILLIONS have been wasted by Federal and State governments trying to do that. There are so many laws / exceptions within each state there is no such thing as a governmental equivalent to Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software like the private sector has. Even if there was, GASB keeps changing the standards, unlike FASB, so there’d be continual updates that had to be purchased.

  22. - Ghost - Monday, Dec 1, 14 @ 6:40 pm:

    Anyone, People soft and SAP etc could do it off the shelf….

  23. - Brad VanHoose - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 12:53 am:

    To you anonymous posters, thats fine…but why not sign your real name? I do. I would be happy to forego compensation for some legal fees as long as criminal provisions are put into FOIA that allow for stiff criminal penalties against municipal entities… the Village of Caseyville, who blatantly and deliberately violate the law. Serial filer? Hardly. Funny you naysayers never offer the solution of compliance. Do you just think you are above the law and will comply as you feel like it. Good luck with that attitude with Lisa Madigan. I have never filed a request for review and had my request/complaint disallowed. Every time I have filed, I have won. I follow the rules. How about everyone just following the law? Why is that so difficult? Next time, have a little courage and sign your name.

  24. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 7:58 am:

    There is an exemption for serial filers. While FOIA is important people should not abuse the system by constantly filing requests. Nobody has the time or resources for these types of people. We comply with thousands of requests per year. We don’t have time for the people that file 5 requests a week.

  25. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 7:58 am:

    ==I have a brand new picture of the commenter called “demoralized” and it ain’t pretty.==

    Bite me.

  26. - Brad VanHoose - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 9:29 am:

    Serial filer? Have you read 5 ILCS 140/ The Illinois Freedom of Information Act? The term is called recurrent requester. The provision, though well intentioned…was intentionally misused by the Village of Caseyville. I lodged my complaint, argued my case,the Attorney General agreed. The Village had to pay…..because of bad legal advice AND poor leadership. The Village of Caseyville preferred to make taxpayers pay for their misdeeds instead of following the law. Taxpayers DID pay….then through the bums out on election day. The Victory for me was wiping out an nearly an entire board of dirtbags. In my humble opinion…that is the ideal thing for taxpayers.

  27. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 9:35 am:

    Ghost -
    Do an internet search on failed government ERP. BILLIONS have been wasted. COTS doesn’t work for government without expensive alterations that may cause the project to fail (federal OPM, for example).

  28. - PJ - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    I’m sympathetic to the spirit of the bill, in that plenty of smaller agencies and municipalities can quickly become overwhelmed by numerous or especially burdensome FOIA requests. In many cases, the FOIA officer acts in this capacity in addition to other, regular duties. Somebody has to do the work, and there can be a cost to performing it. I’m not saying there aren’t weaknesses in the bill, but I definitely get the intent.

  29. - Apocalypse Now - Tuesday, Dec 2, 14 @ 11:25 am:

    So what are the Democrats afraid the public/press may find out? If government put more information on their web sites, there wouldn’t be as many FOI request. Shameful by the Democrats, but the 47% seem to be ok with this.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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