Madigan working on FOIA law revisions

Amelia Flood and Chris Rizo May 13, 2009, 10:22am


The law governing the release of public records has Attorney General Lisa Madigan's attention and it could mean Illinois gets tougher rules about when government bodies deny records requests.

Madigan's office is currently working on wording that would revamp the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), tightening the loopholes that many argue keep government proceedings in the shadows. Madigan's revisions would be inserted into a current House bill concerning the act.

Illinois's FOIA law allows citizens to formally request most documents pertaining to government business.

The Madison County Record, for example, requested documents from the City of Fairview Heights related to settlements from 13 lawsuits against online travel agencies and attorneys' fees on May 7. Under the current law, the city has seven business days, or until Monday, to turn over the documents or deny the request.

The seven business day provision is one part Madigan's revision would seek to change.

The rewrite would address, among other parts of the law, the nearly 60 exemptions that public bodies can use to deny documents requests.

The revision would change the time period in which government bodies have to respond to a FOIA request from seven to five days. Public bodies would no longer be able to treat requests as "unduly burdensome," and therefore deny them if they fail to respond in the time allotted.

Citizens also would be able to appeal denied requests to the Attorney General's office if needed.

The bill's wording has changed several times and is still in the works.

Madigan is known for championing public access issues and the state's so-called Sunshine Laws. She has furthered proposed creating positions within public bodies to specifically handle FOIA requests and issues. The attorney general was quoted Friday as saying she hopes the reforms could be enacted before this session of the legislature closes.

"I certainly think the climate is such that we have a unique opportunity to put some real changes in place for our sunshine laws," Madigan said.

The bill is co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville).

Once the attorney general's revisions are inserted into the bill, it will be considered as part of House Bill 1370.

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