REASON #10: NO OPPORTUNITY WAS GIVEN FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION OR DEBATE. HB 3796 was introduced the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, one week before the end of the session. While Illinoisans were honoring those who have defended democracy as members of our U.S. military, the General Assembly was limiting the public’s right to participate in the democratic process. HB 3796 affects individuals who monitor government, ad hoc citizen groups who organize to address issues of public concern, average citizens who want to learn more about government, and lawyers who represent individuals or community groups in addressing issues of public concern.
REASON #9: THE INTERNET ACCESS PROVISION CONTRADICTS THE FOIA PROVISION THAT ALLOWS REQUESTERS THE RIGHT TO INSPECT THE PHYSICAL COPY OF THE RECORD.* HB 3796 bypasses the requester’s right to inspect original records by allowing the public body to respond to FOIA by notifying “the requester that the public record is available online and direct[ing] the requester to the website where the record can be reasonably accessed.” **
REASON #8: 5 ILCS 140/3 (e)(vi) ALREADY ALLOWS GOVERNMENT ENTITIES MORE TIME TO RESPOND TO REQUESTS. Public bodies can invoke an additional 5 days if they need more time to respond so that compliance will not unduly burden or interfere with government operation.
REASON #7: 5 ILCS 140/3(g) ALREADY ALLOWS GOVERNMENT ENTITIES A MECHANISM TO MANAGE LARGE REQUESTS. The “unduly burdensome” provision allows public bodies to determine that the burden on the public body to produce requested information outweighs public interest in disclosure.
REASON #6: NO DOCUMENTATION HAS BEEN RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC TO ILLUSTRATE SYSTEMIC ABUSE. Public bodies have not documented the perceived problem this bill allegedly will solve. Further, FOIA is an “intent neutral” law; no requester has to tell the public body why a record is sought.
REASON #5: VOLUMINOUS REQUEST DESIGNATIONS WILL RESULT IN LESS MEANINGFUL PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT. To intelligently address issues of public concern, a routine FOIA request can easily exceed the proposed thresholds. A routine FOIA to address community development and economic issues would include all (1) minutes, (2) agendas, (3) all staff communications, (4) applications, (5) financial data, (6) contracts, (7) consultant reports, (8) comprehensive plan, and (9) attorney billing records for a particular time period.
REASON #4: HB 3796 CREATES THE “HAVES” AND “HAVE NOTS” OF PUBLIC ACCESS.
The fee scale for electronic data unfairly penalizes Illinoisans with lower incomes and who wish to civically engage, and it will create a class of citizens who have financial means to access them and a class that doesn’t.
REASON #3: HB 3796 COMPLICATES AND DETERS THE USE OF FOIA BY AVERAGE CITIZENS.
The provisions for voluminous requests, access to online documents, and electronic data cost provisions have unnecessarily complicated the FOIA so that a lawyer is necessary to untangle the red tape of the procedures for accessing information.
REASON #2: THE VOLUMINOUS REQUEST PROVISION WORKS IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE RECURRENT REQUESTER PROVISION TO SQUEEZE OUT THE PUBLIC. The recurrent requester provision limits how many FOIA requests can be made in a certain time frame. Voluminous request provisions limit how much can be requested at one time. A requester is potentially forced to choose: be labeled recurrent or voluminous! Either road, the end point is the same: less access to public records.
AND THE #1 REASON THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY SHOULD VOTE NO ON HB 3796 is:
HB 3796 LIMITS HOW PUBLIC INFORMATION IS DISTRIBUTED WHILE PLACING NO RESPONSIBILITY ON PUBLIC BODIES TO MAKE MORE INFORMATION AVAILABLE.
Public bodies claim hardship without bearing any responsibility for making more public records available without requiring requests, which would benefit all parties.
* 5ILCS 3(a); DesPain v. City of Collinsville, 88N.E.2d 163 (2008).
** H.R. 3796 98th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2014).