Tag Archives: FOIA

FOIA’s Cloudy Future has us Vexed

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Matt Wuerker/Politico

“Sunshine Week,” a national campaign dedicated to protecting the public’s right to get information about their government, is now being celebrated. But in Illinois, the outlook for such access is more cloudy than bright.

Last year, a new Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) went into effect, making it easier for people to receive more information about their government in a timely manner.

Now, however, some state lawmakers are trying to undercut the new FOIA law by introducing bills that range from charging money to get public documents to watering down a citizen’s ability to appeal an initial FOIA denial from a government agency.

More than ten bills were introduced this year aimed at reducing FOIA’s reach.

One of the most aggressive attempts to roll back the protections of FOIA is Senate Bill 1645, sponsored by State Sen. Edward Maloney (D-Chicago).

If passed, public entities would have the authority to delay responding, until a time they deem reasonable, to a FOIA request on the grounds that they find it to be “vexatious.”

What is vexatious? Our thesaurus says it is synonymous with annoying, irritating or bothersome. Not one of those are words lawmakers typically associate with constituents who are asserting their rights to access information about their government.

So, if this bill passes, how easy would it be for a FOIA request to be labeled as vexatious? Pretty easy.

Among other things, a request can be labeled vexatious if you have already made five or more FOIA requests in a year and if the public body thinks the request is unduly burdensome.

Then, once it’s labeled vexatious, the bill adds language to existing law that prevents you from appealing that label to any higher legal authority. So once a public body calls a request vexatious, you’re vexatious for good. And you get tracked in a log with all the other vexatious people.

One section of the bill exempts the press from being called vexatious, which means that members of the press have more of a right to public information than constituents.

This is a disturbing possibility.

Public bodies should not be given the authority to deny access to public information for constituents they deem annoying, particularly when there is no higher legal authority that reviews that determination or can overturn it.

SB 1645 is headed to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber. The BGA will be working hard to stop this vexing legislation from going any further.

WHAT NOW? You can help by letting your state senator know that you oppose this effort—enter your address here to find your state senator’s information. Put in a call and remind him or her that access to public information is vital, and that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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Statewide update—March 14, 2011

Daily HeraldState could limit FOIA requests, “Under the plan, if officials believe someone is requesting so much information that they’re tying up workers’ time and inhibiting government functions, they can label the request as ‘vexatious’ or ‘unduly burdensome’ and ignore the requirement that they must respond within five days.”

  • State Journal RegisterEfficiency commission accused of being inefficient, “Voters approved creation of the Citizens Efficiency Commission in November. It will be made up of representatives from all of the taxing districts in Sangamon County, and members will look for more efficient ways to deliver government services. Suggestions could include joint purchasing or even governmental mergers.”
  • (Gatehouse News Service) Rockford Register Star—Illinois judges to get mandatory reviews, “The evaluations are designed to help judges become aware of potential performance problems and remedy them. The results won’t be made public.”
  • SouthtownStarDaley nephew case has unanswered questions, “it’s been two weeks now since the Chicago Police Department concluded Mayor Richard Daley’s nephew threw the punch that led to David Koschman’s death but closed its recently reopened investigation without seeking criminal charges.”
  • SouthtownStarDixmoor village trustee arrested, “Michael A. Smith believes he was stopped outside his grandmother’s house at 146th and Cooper because he has been investigating what he says are the mismanagement of village funds, and other incidents, including the repossession of a fire truck.”

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Statewide update—March 11, 2011

Peoria Journal StarEditorial: Senate bill an unnecessary assault on open government, “Under a bill set to be debated soon on the Senate floor – SB 1645 – government bodies could get far more time to consider requests for public records from folks they’ve deemed to be pests… Those would be citizens who file more than 15 requests for records in a year, or five within a month, or five total that fit under the subjective definition of burdening a government body.”

  • (AP) SouthtownStarComEd rate hike under fire, “The elderly and unemployed showed up at an ICC hearing on Thursday asking regulators to reject a rate increase and a pilot surcharge. Together, they would add $5.25 to an average resident’s monthly bill of $86.”

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Statewide update—March 10, 2011

Peoria Journal StarFOIA access could be curbed; Committee Oks measure giving officials discretion on ‘vexatious’ requests, “Local government officials said it is intended to deal with members of the public who file excessive requests under the Freedom of Information Act as a form of harassment.”

Trib Local (Tinley Park)Tinley Park to begin posting public records requests, names online, “We’re hoping through publication, and not just the citizens, but the individuals in their mind’s eye, rethink, and not stop asking for FOIAs, but limit them to what they think are important to them.”

  • Daily HeraldIsland lake mayor to sue trustees over ‘power grabs’, “The lawsuit also will seek an injunction to stop the four trustees, who represent a majority of the six-member board, from dismissing its long-standing law firm, [Ancel Glink] and hiring a suburban law firm to represent the town.”
  • State Journal RegisterQuinn ends death penalty, commutes prisoners’ death sentences, “We have tried over and over again to come up with a perfect system that makes no mistakes with respect to carrying out the death penalty, and we have found over and over again mistakes have been made and innocent people have been freed,’ Quinn said.”

 

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Statewide update—March 9, 2011

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SouthtownStarTinley Park advances FOI plan, “Chilling effect? No,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to get around extensive amounts of FOIs and frivolous FOIs…Rea insisted that publicizing FOI requests was not intended to be a deterrent for seeking public information, but he acknowledged wanting to free his staff from sending so much time on them.”

  • (AP) State Journal RegisterBlagojevich asks judge to cancel retrial, sentence him on conviction, “The impeached former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, asked a judge on Wednesday to cancel his retrial and promptly sentence him on the sole conviction from his first trial, arguing that money woes prevent him from mounting an ample defense.”
  • Daily HeraldMayor, trustees tussle over law firm, “[Ancel Glink] told trustees Illinois law empowers mayors — not village boards — to appoint legal counsel. In a memo, he said his firm was prepared to disregard the board’s vote and continue providing legal services.”
  • WBEZIllinois law aims to protect minority voting rights, “One of the purposes of the law is to make sure our racial minorities, our language minorities, our citizens who live in a particular area, get a fair chance to elect the person of their choice.”

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Statewide update—March 8, 2011

Bloomington PantagraphState’s archaic financial tracking system under review, “Less than two weeks after Auditor General William Holland found the state is relying on hundreds of different financial reporting systems to track spending, the chairwoman of a Senate committee said lawmakers must investigate.”

  • Chicago Sun-TimesJohn Cullerton: Consider taxing under-65 pensions, “The top Senate Democrat Monday suggested taxing retirement income for high-earning senior citizens for the first time to help lower income taxes that were raised in January.”
  • Daily HeraldGambling plan includes slots, no casinos, “The push to allow slot machines at Arlington Park and other Illinois race tracks is on once again, but an initial plan leaves any new casinos out of the equation.”
  • SouthtownStarQuinn signs Chinatown redistricting legislation, “Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Monday a bill that protects minority groups from being split — and thus losing political influence — during legislative redistricting.”

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Statewide update—March 7, 2011

(AP) Rockford Register StarFormer Cook County president files for unemployment, county officials protest, “A spokeswoman for current board president Toni Preckwinkle says Stroger applied Jan. 7 to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, seeking unemployment benefits for the $170,000 he received yearly as president.”

  • Chicago Sun-TimesThe Watchdogs: City Hall hired 139 ex-cons in two years, “One of them smuggled cocaine from Jamaica about a decade ago. Another was a carjacker. A third was convicted in the shooting of two Chicago cops in the 1970s, hitting one of them in the face.”

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