FOIA bill more flim-flam
Freedom-of-information legislation ought to promote openness in government, not more secrecy.
Our legislators once again are playing games with the state's Freedom of Information Act, and a vigilant Gov. Pat Quinn is well advised to veto this latest example of political chicanery.
Under the guise of targeting "voluminous" requesters, defined as those individuals who make too many FOIA requests to suit some public officials, the proposed legislation would allow units of government to delay responding and charge substantial fees, payable in advance, to those who want to know what their government is doing.
We don't doubt that there are those who do abuse the FOIA process, but, at the same time, no one should doubt that many government officials deeply resent having to let the public in on the public's business. This legislation comes across as more of a defense of the desire of government to keep the public's business to itself than anything else.
"This is an annual dance that municipalities play to get out from under the legitimate need to provide citizens with information. Municipalities don't like to take a lot of time complying with FOIA. They have been trying from Day One to get around full compliance. This is their latest iteration," said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Better Government Association.
The legislation was passed by overwhelming margins in the fading days of the recent session of the General Assembly. The vote in the Senate was 49-1 and in the House 77-36. Needless to say, too many of our legislators either take a dim view of freedom of information or were oblivious to this proposal's potential consequences.
It's not, of course, that the FOIA doesn't need improvement. Current law is far better than Illinois' first version of the FOIA, but it still allows governmental units to deny legitimate claims and force litigation before it can be compelled to turn over disputed materials. The University of Illinois has been a prime offender in that regard.
This proposed change represents a step in the wrong direction.
Since the Legislature has failed in its duty to do what it can to include citizens in the democratic process, Gov. Quinn will have to step up to the plate. Given his past record on issues of this nature, Quinn should know exactly what to do — veto the bill and explain in an accompanying statement why the Legislature made a mistake by passing it.