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:
A 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:
HB 3796 “VOLUMINOUS REQUEST” FACT SHEET
UNNECESSARY & ANTI-DEMOCRATIC CHANGES TO ILLINOIS FOIA BACKGROUND
ILLINOIS FOIA LEGISLATIVE INTENT:
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).
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.
PART ONE: THE “VOLUMINOUS REQUEST”
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.
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)
PART TWO: ELECTRONIC RECORDS
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:
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.
- 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:
House roll call on FOIA contraction legislation numbered HB 3796.
Senate roll call on House Bill 3796.