SPRINGFIELD - A bill that would require tape recording of closed-session meetings by public bodies has lost the backing of one of its once-staunch supporters. State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, a former sponsor of similar legislation, now has concerns about the idea and plans to vote no.
The Illinois Press Association has been pushing for the bill for several years.
It would require audiotaping or videotaping of all closed meetings, and judges could review the tapes in their chambers to determine whether the Open Meetings Act had been violated.
The act allows government bodies to conduct closed-door meetings to discuss only certain topics, such as collective bargaining, hiring and firing, "probable or imminent lawsuits" and other sensitive issues, but votes must be taken in public.
Supporters say the legislation would ensure that if a government body discusses behind closed doors topics that by law must be aired openly, a record of what was said may later be made public.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said she backs the bill because it is a way government bodies can show that they are indeed doing the right thing.
Black said he never heard any complaints about the bill last year when he was a co-sponsor, but this year he has heard from several people opposed to the idea, including the Danville city clerk, area community college presidents, township supervisors and mayors. He has decided his vote should reflect that, he said.
"I voted for the bill last year and never heard a word," Black said. "This year, I just have too many letters and too many calls from well-meaning people that I respect, and so I will accede to their wishes and vote no."
Opponents said the bill is an unfunded mandate on local governments, who must pay for and store the tapes.
Others have said the potential that an outsider, even if it is a judge, may hear the tape could stifle open and honest discussion.
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he understands the arguments on both sides, but has not yet decided how he will vote.
The Illinois Municipal League is fighting the bill, as is the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, while the Illinois Press Association has made passing the bill its No. 1 priority this spring.
The measure passed the Senate on a 44-9 vote last month, with the backing of state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, and state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.
It cleared a House committee by a one-vote margin and will likely be debated by the full House next week.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, the House Majority leader, is sponsoring the bill with state Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .