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Everyone has their own priorities

Tuesday, Apr 7, 2020

* Greg Hinz

With an assist from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the state’s leading local-government group is seeking a delay of at least a month and maybe longer in granting public requests for public records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

But the request, which has been kicked over to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, is getting push-back from the state’s largest press organization, which argues that the public’s need for transparency is at least as great as ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic. […]

Cole specifically wants to lengthen the normal five-day FOIA response period—the period can be longer, under some circumstances—to “at least the number of business days corresponding to the remaining length” of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. The order now runs through April, so the delay would push into at least late May the period for governments to comply.

And here’s the answer

“The Office of the Attorney General does not have the authority to suspend the statutory requirements of the Freedom of Information Act,” [the AG’s office] said in a statement, “But, we understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed strains on public bodies and we have been examining what, if any, options we do have under the law to provide public bodies with guidance to help them comply with their obligations under FOIA.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

13 Comments
  1. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 4:09 pm:

    I think, as Governor Pritzker requested, that those requesting information should give a little leeway on the deadlines (not a month but longer than the 5 days) given the situation of many people working from home. I would hope those requesting information would be reasonable and understand that the timelines may be missed right now.


  2. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 4:46 pm:

    There’s a reasonable compromise to appease the requests and not force any administration, and this administration in particular, should try to comply in the best spirit of the law with honest attempts within other time frames too


  3. - la dictadora - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 4:52 pm:

    Would love to know what’s being foia’d from the Mayor’s office that she’s trying to delay.

    Hopefully it’s her initial communication with the governor’s team and her team’s internal response to COVID so we can see what really played out in a time of crisis and better understand readiness and leadership at the highest levels.


  4. - Homebody - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 4:54 pm:

    This is why FOIA contains the unduly burdensome language. It can already be used this way, I imagine. People are just lazy and want a quick blanket fix (which I understand, given that 95% of the FOIAs my agency gets are uninteresting and lead to nothing of value).


  5. - RNUG - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 5:57 pm:

    Good for the AG’s guidance.

    If it is really that big of an issue, the Legislature can meet and amend the language.


  6. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 6:04 pm:

    The Governor is the one with the emergency powers, and the one who would act here. I’m not seeing any similar order in New York, which calls it’s open records law FOIL.


  7. - Leslie K - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 7:41 pm:

    ===Would love to know what’s being foia’d from the Mayor’s office that she’s trying to delay===

    Don’t forget that this isn’t just about her “office”, per se. She oversees all of the City’s functions–police, fire, streets and sanitation, water, etc. The police department alone has at least 15 people working on FOIA full-time, and they regularly miss deadlines even working at full capacity. FOIA is critically important for an informed public, but it’s also another example of where governments were already working under stress, and this adds more stress.

    But I don’t take issue with the AG’s statement. There may be things the PAC can do on the back end (e.g. decisions regarding ‘unduly burdensome’), but only the GA has authority to change timelines on the front end.


  8. - RNUG - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 7:55 pm:

    == The Governor is the one with the emergency powers, and the one who would act here ==

    A lot of what the Governor has done is based on IDPH statutes. While Illinois has a strong Governor overall, he is still limited. The Legislature has to change this if they want to.


  9. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 8:36 pm:

    The Legislature can change FOIA of course, but I doubt they would more than I doubt the Governor would. But if the Governor wanted to modify FOIA, I would think he would issue a similar EO to the one below suspending the annual township meetings:

    https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/Executive-Orders/ExecutiveOrder2020-22.aspx

    The statutes cited are not the best, but if the Governor can suspend the township statutes, he can probably modify FOIA.


  10. - allknowingmasterofraccoodom - Tuesday, Apr 7, 20 @ 9:10 pm:

    In my personal experiences, our largest FOIA requests have always been of a commercial nature. Requests for copies of permits, filings, specific inspections so that gutter companies, insurance agents, and other business can hyper-target market their audiences to sell goods. It is a royal pain and very expensive to fill these requests. They have to give the units of gov time during this pandemic. And the marketers should chill out a little bit too.


  11. - Titan - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 8:24 am:

    The AG may not be able to change the law, but he could direct the public access coordinator about dialing back on holding units of government to the normal tight deadlines.


  12. - GC - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 8:52 am:

    Past AGs really haven’t been in the business of issuing FOIA rulings in favor of governments; just requesters.

    A FOIA requester doesn’t *only* have recourse to the AG. It’s not administrative review. They can sue and get attorney fees without going through the AG first. That’s what has these guys worried. Having to rely on “unduly burdensome” means either (i) airing on the side of caution and pulling staff away from other pressing duties or (ii) having a court go the wrong way and costing tens of thousands of dollars.

    The Guv could provide some immunity similar to the healthcare civil liability EO in a way that encourages people to go through the AG first. OR, I can’t speak to the legalities, but if you wanted to be more operational, I think these are all common-sense during a time of emergency:
    * Ability to automatically deny commercial requests
    * Requests by other than news media >> extra 2 weeks extension (so 4 weeks total)
    * Voluminous requests by other than news media >> Automatically deny if not narrowed down from a voluminous request
    * As a technical matter, news media are exempt from being considered voluminous requests / being subject to fees / etc. News media requests that otherwise meet the definition of a “voluminous request” should also take an extra two weeks extension to four weeks total. Gives them an incentive to make specific requests rather than go fishing.


  13. - Simply anon - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 1:46 pm:

    I understand the practical concerns about handling routine FOIA requests. But what about FOIA’s tied to the virus and the City/State handling of it?


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