Tag Archives: freedom of information act

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.

1 Comment

Filed under FOIA, Transparency

Statewide Update—Jan. 31, 2011

  • The Southern—Public takes advantage of changes to open government laws, “Instead of filing a lawsuit, members of the public can ask the Public Access Bureau in the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to review withheld documents or meetings complaints, to make sure government bodies are not violating the Freedom of Information Act or the Open Meetings Act.”
  • (AP) Rockford Register Star—Pat Quinn to sign historic civil unions legislation, “Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do countries including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.”
  • State Journal-Register—Lawmakers seeking more money from state retirees for health care, “The legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will meet Wednesday to talk with two Quinn administration officials about how the state can craft an income-based formula for how much retirees will have to pay.”
  • Daily Herald—Law firm donates to DuPage board members, wins contract, “Nine of the 15 DuPage County Board members who approved a no-bid contract for an Itasca law firm to help redraw the county’s electoral boundaries have accepted campaign contributions from the group or its attorneys, a review by the Daily Herald and the Better Government Association shows.”
  • Chicago Tribune—CTA puts brakes on talk of closing Red Line stations, “The agency is in the early stages of soliciting feedback for an overhaul of the north branch of the Red Line and the Purple Line, from about Belmont north through Evanston and to Linden in Wilmette.”
  • Rockford Register Star—Lawsuit for Harlem Township records nears its end, “The township also has called the Freedom of Information Act requests by Mullins unduly burdensome and argues that some of the records she requested simply are not on file at the township.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Statewide Update

Statewide Update—Jan. 24, 2011

  • Southtown Star—Worker’s compensation reform could delay borrowing, “Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) would consider it a “positive side benefit” if progress on worker’s comp makes Republicans more willing to consider borrowing money to pay bills, said spokesman John Patterson.”
  • Chicago Tribune—Plan would charge state retirees more for health care, “The new push is a crackdown on the rising cost of health care for retired state workers. The program costs the state nearly $500 million a year, and more than 90 percent of the retirees and survivors pay no premiums.”
  • State Journal-Register—Top aide leaving attorney general’s office, “Besides being deputy chief of staff for Madigan, Smith has served as the attorney general’s public access counselor for a year, since changes to the state Freedom of Information Act took effect that were aimed at increasing government transparency.”
  • Chicago Tribune—Editorial: Curb free rides, “Free rides, of course, aren’t free. The Regional Transportation Authority estimates they cost the transit system $38.5 million in 2009.”
  • State Journal-Register—Opinion: There’s a reason recall process is convoluted, “…it could be used to oust someone just because they made an unpopular decision. Trying to avoid that is one reason the recall process now part of the state constitution is as convoluted as it is.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Statewide Update

Statewide Update—Jan. 7, 2011

  • (AP) State Journal-Register—Public using stronger open government laws, “Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Thursday that the state’s 2009 overhaul of its Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws brought long-overdue transparency to Illinois government.”
  • Bloomington Pantagraph—On 2nd try, state House votes to abolish death penalty, “Illinois has not enforced the death penalty since then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium in 2000 after more than a dozen men on death row were exonerated. Just before leaving office in 2003, Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison and pardoned four others.”
  • State Journal-Register—Dems push income, cig tax increases, property tax break, “The plan calls for borrowing $8.75 billion to pay off old bills. And to prevent the state from sinking into a financial abyss again, lawmakers will be asked to approve bills limiting spending increases and imposing a prohibition on new programs for the next three years.”
  • Southtown Star—Daley rips admission fee for Taste of Chicago, “During that the Taste of Chicago will ‘always be free,’ Mayor Richard Daley said Thursday he would oppose a lone bidder’s proposal to charge a $20 admission fee to the lakefront festival.”
  • State Journal-Register, Editorial—Clout carries the day vs. Tenaska, “As things stand now, it appears that the Tenaska clean coal power plant proposed for Taylorville is dead.”

1 Comment

Filed under Statewide Update

Statewide Update—Jan. 6, 2011

  • Chicago Sun-Times—Better Government Association sues Chicago Police Department, “The BGA, a not-for-profit corporation, claims the Chicago police refuses to release documents about the protection and transportation of Burke (14th) as requested in an Aug. 24, 2010, Freedom of Information Act request, according to the complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court.”
  • State Journal-Register—2 percentage point income tax hike on table for state leaders, “Legislative leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn will meet today to discuss boosting Illinois’ income tax rate from the current 3 percent to 5 percent as part of a package that also could include pension borrowing, a moratorium on new state programs, no new spending and property tax relief.”
  • Bloomington Pantagraph—Illinois Senate approves Medicaid reform, “With the clock ticking on the lame-duck legislative session, the Illinois Senate unanimously approved a plan Wednesday to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program.”
  • State Journal-Register—Tenaska bill falls short in Senate, “A bill authorizing construction of a $3.5 billion clean coal technology plant in Taylorville failed in a vote in the Illinois Senate Wednesday.”
  • Belleville News Democrat—Insurance fraud investigators begin probe into workers’ comp claims at Menard, “State insurance fraud investigators have opened an official probe of the Menard Correctional Center, where hundreds of guards and others have filed for or received taxpayer-funded settlements for “repetitive trauma” they say was mainly caused by operating heavy cell locking mechanisms.”
  • Southtown Star—U.S. House welcomes five from Illinois, “The Illinois congressional delegation has the biggest freshman class in more than a decade — five new House members and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk were sworn in to full terms on Wednesday, all Republicans.”
  • Daily Herald, Editorial—Kane County ethics laws, for the most part, require a do-over, “An opinion on the county’s ethics law from former State’s Attorney John Barsanti before he left office to become a circuit judge Dec. 1 deems several sections of the law unclear, not applicable and unenforceable.”
  • Southtown Star, Editorial—Unfair election process taints suburban hearings, “Whenever suburban elections approach, dozens of poor slobs find themselves caught up in a process designed to stop outsiders from threatening the people in power.”
  • Chicago Tribune, Editorial: Reform—or eyewash? “Springfield is buzzing with reform talk in the final frantic days of this brief, few-days conclusion to a 2010 legislative session.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Statewide Update

Statewide Update—Dec. 21, 2010

  • Naperville Sun—District 203 board approves tax levy: “Zager said the $3.5 million increase in property taxes will not be borne by current taxpayers, but is a redirection of the taxes already paid in that area. What used to go to the TIF district will now come to the school district.”
  • Daily Herald—Aurora to vote on budget Tuesday:Aldermen on the city council’s finance committee have reviewed the budget at four public meetings since receiving the more than 1,000-page document the week of Nov. 29.

Leave a comment

Filed under Statewide Update