Just before thanksgiving we got word that a bill was introduced in the Illinois Legislature's short fall "Veto Session" that would significantly weaken the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
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.
Illinois needs more transparency, not less. So, working with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the Better Government Association and Citizen Advocacy Center, we went to work to stop this bad bill from moving forward. The media quickly picked up the story and soon the bill sponsor pulled the bill, citing the "firestorm" of opposition.
Our work is far from over, however. Another anti-transparency bill that we oppose will likely pass today. While we may have stopped this bill from passing this week, its legislative sponsors indicate they are not giving up. Neither are we.