General Assembly Moves to Limit Freedom of Information Requests

Pam Althoff

Pam Althoff

Proponents of transparency are up in arms about efforts by legislators to limit access under the Freedom of Information Act.

They point to House Bill 3796.

The legislation, passed by both the House and the Senate during the last week of the spring session, was sponsored in the House by Barbara Flynn Currie, Ed Sullivan, Jr., and Robert Rita.

The contents of the bill did not surface until May 23rd.

Senate sponsors were Michael E. Hastings, Pamela J. Althoff, Pat McGuire and Bill Cunningham.

The Better Government Association has the following to say about the bill:

BGA LogoA weakening of our most valuable transparency tool, the Freedom of Information Act, breezed through both chambers in a single week in May.

Motivated by suburban government complaints about the strain of responding to comprehensive FOIA requests, lawmakers passed HB3796, which gives municipalities additional time to respond to so-called “voluminous” requests from citizens, and lets them charge the FOIA filers up to $100.

The extra time’s not a deal-breaker, but the fees are arbitrary and unreasonably high, which seriously undermines the ability of regular citizens to access the public information they’re entitled to.

Opponent Kathy Kuehner of Blue Island writes this:

[The bill] would allow municipalities to reject FOIA requests for various technical reasons, charge up too $100 for FOIA requests and slow down turn over times for requests.

This bill was submitted by Mike Madigan and sailed through the both houses of the legislature in record time!

The Citizens Advocacy Center offered the following analysis of the bill in arguing against Governor Pat Quinn’s signing it:

All persons are entitled to full and completeinformation regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those whorepresent them as public officials and public employees. Access is necessary to enable the peopleto fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments, and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.Illinois Freedom Information Act, 5 ILCS 140 §1 (2010).
2009 REFORM:
Reforms implemented January 2010 lessened the gap between the intent of theFOIA and government practice in responding to FOIA requests. Primary reform objectivesachieved include:
  • Increased access to public records.
  • An increased threshold that public bodies must meet to withhold information.
  • Enforcement authority by the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s office
As soon as reforms went into effect, Illinois legislatorsimmediately introduced and continue to pursue roll-back legislation to substantially weakenFOIA.
HB 3796 was spontaneously introduced to address the alleged problem of large FOIA requestssubmitted in acrimonious environments.
What is a “Voluminous Request?”
Language taken directly from HB 3796
  • Request that includes more than 5 individual requests for more than 5 different categoriesof records, OR
  • A combination of individual requests that total requests for more than 5 different categories of records in a period of 20 business days,OR
  • Requires the compilation of more than 500 letter or legal-sized pages of public recordsunless a single requested record exceeds 500 pages.
Definition: “Single Requested Record”
One public record, such as one report, form, e-mail, letter, memo, map, microfilm, tape, or recording.
Definition: “Request”
A written document (or oral request, if the public body chooses to honor oral requests) that is submitted to a public body via personal delivery, mail, telefax, electronic mail, or other means available to the public body and that identifies the particular public record or records the requester seeks. One request may identify multiple individual records to be inspected or copied.
Who is exempt from the Voluminous Request designation?
  • News media = Exempt!
  • Non-profits = Exempt!
  • Scientific organizations Exempt! 
  • Academic organizations Exempt!
To whom may the Voluminous Request designation apply?
  • Members of the public who want to be civically engaged = NOT EXEMPT!
  • Lawyers who assist members of the public who want to be civically engaged = NOT EXEMPT!
Impact of “Voluminous Request” designation:
Delayed Production of Public Records + Increased Cost Charged for Public Records (see flow chart)
HB 3796 introduces a fee scale for electronic records by format type and size.
How much will electronic records cost if the request is considered “voluminous”?
Format and Data Size:
Public Body May Charge:
FOIA charges under HB 3296
What if the record is published on the public body’s website?
If the record requested is published on the public body’s website, the public body only needs to direct the requester to its website to fulfill the FOIA request.
This provision:
  • Takes away the right of the requester to inspect original documents,
  •  Fails to certify that the website record is a “true and accurate” copy of the original, and
  •  Requires requesters without online access to re-submit their FOIA request and state their inability to “reasonably” access the record online.

The roll calls are below:

FOIA Contraction 2014 HB 3796 House Roll Call

House roll call on FOIA contraction legislation numbered HB 3796.

Senate roll call

Senate roll call on House Bill 3796.



General Assembly Moves to Limit Freedom of Information Requests — 17 Comments

  1. Cal: Have you filed to become a 501 C3 or C4 yet?

    Althoff spends way too much time with the LIBERAL staff in Springfield.

    Pam believes in compromise.

    Remember what compromise did for Richard Perle.

  2. Allen, Jack Franks voted against it too.

    If he’s not local, you may want to update your google maps app.

  3. Looks like I need to introduce a policy to have MCC stick with the old guidelines if Quinn signs off on this pig.

  4. And people wonder why people are fleeing Illinois… this is just shameful.

  5. Two big impacts that I can foresee:

    1. It is standard practice among DUI attorneys to FOIA the dashcam footage. Considering that just about any video file is greater than 4MB, this practice will go away.

    2. I hope the GA realized that the size of a PDF file is arbitrary. You can drastically increase the size of a PDF with the click of a button in Adobe Acrobat by turning the quality settings all the way up.

  6. I would like to know what we can do now??

    How do we address this and roll it back?

    I am so disappointed in Althoff who is a liberal in GOP clothing.

    This is a terrible blow to reform of Government offices in Illinois.

  7. Contact Governor Pat Quinn’s office. Get your friends to do so as well.

  8. I would like to know what we can do now?? How do we address this and roll it back? I am so disappointed in Althoff who is a liberal in GOP clothing. And that’s o.k. but the people voted for a Republican and she is not serving the party or the people when she is deceptive.

    This is a terrible blow to reform of Government offices in Illinois.We deserve transparency. We have career politicians who are not used to having anyone question what they are doing and if they are producing value for the tax payer. FOIA is part of that accountability.

  9. It’s not a law until Quinn signs it.
    Quinn hasn’t signed it.
    As of last week the General Assembly had not yet sent the bill to Quinn, so he couldn’t sign it, because he didn’t have it.
    After a bill passes both the House and Senate, the House and Senate have up to 30 days to send it to the Governor.
    The Governor then has up to 60 days from the day he receives the bill to sign the bill into a law, at which point it’s referred to as a Public Act and given a Public Act number, and since this is the 98th General Assembly (each GA covers 2 years), the PA Number would be 098-xxxx.
    Contact Quinn’s office and tell him to veto House Bill 3796.
    Have all your friends do the same.
    This bill was a rush job.
    No way should an ordinary citizen be charged $20 for 2MB of data.
    That’s not a lot of data.
    Citizens pay enough taxes.
    Many times the taxing district should have the data on their website anyways.
    Some taxing districts are known to play games with FOIA requests they really don’t want to fulfill.
    Lisa Madigan’s office receives thousands of FOIA appeals every year.
    In terms of this bill, say you pay $20 for 2Mb of data.
    You look at the data.
    It’s not what you want.
    You could appeal to Lisa Madigan’s office, who may conclude you need to submit another FOIA to clarify.
    You submit another FOIA.
    Then you have to pay another $20.
    Now you are at $40 for your request and you may not be done yet.
    It’s not unusual for FOIA requests to go back and forth like that.
    Sometimes the government doesn’t understand what the citizen is requesting.
    But other times?
    Looking at the bill from the taxing district perspective.
    There are apparently some frequent requesters.
    But this bill seems overly broad and overly punitive on the average Joe.
    And the definite red flag is the bill was rushed through the General Assembly at the end of the session.

  10. Two points:

    1. Typo or intentional “those whorepresent” is a great description of the legislature. I thae it to mean “prostitute there.”

    2. File size of pdf’s is easy to manipulate by adjustin resolution or aadding high rez images like pictures of an offical seal or a photo of an officeholder.

  11. Just reason #5619 to pray for Althof’s removal through the electoral process or her own volition.

    She really reeks.

  12. Just Joe made me laugh …. a real feat!

    He’s absolutely right about the legislative whores.

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