Now that Gov. Pat Quinn has signed off on the state’s massive public works bill and a new budget, he should keep his pen handy to sign another important measure for Illinois’ future.
This has nothing to do with facilitating the flow of bricks, mortar and pavement to construction sites. It has everything to do with improving the flow of information between government and the people it serves.
We speak of the revised Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which passed the House unanimously in May and won approval in the Senate with only one nay vote.
The bill was sent to Quinn on June 26. He has 60 days to act or the bill becomes law without his signature.
There’s no reason for Quinn to take the full two months. He should sign the bill now and send a message that his administration is serious about improving public access to government information.
The new FOIA does just that.
It would give the Attorney General’s Office binding authority to decide disputes between those requesting information and governmental bodies that do not wish to comply.
It would create a permanent public access counselor within the Attorney General’s Office to ride herd on enforcement of the act.
It would strengthen fines for noncompliance. It would allow fewer exemptions to the act. It would require that public boards and councils designate someone to receive training to comply with the act.
A study conducted by David Porter of the Illinois Press Association concludes that improvements in the act are overwhelmingly in the public’s interest.
On the negative side, the act allows too many exemptions for secrecy regarding police arrest information, certain financial information, disciplinary cases, preliminary drafts of public documents, educational course materials, and people who do business with the government.
Those deficiencies are far outweighed by the act’s positives.
Having a public access counselor whose opinions are binding will go a long way toward greater availability of information from governmental bodies. So will having a local person at each unit of government who is trained in FOIA rules and regulations.
All in all, Porter and the IPA believe the revised act is much better than the status quo, and should be signed.
Don Craven, interim IPA executive director, said: “This bill is miles ahead of where we started with transparency in Illinois. Is it everything we ever hoped for? No, but it is much improved over the current law.”
The administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was run out of office Jan. 29, was notorious for denying Freedom of Information Act requests to hide the ex-governor’s shady activities. Emboldened by such lack of compliance, other public bodies felt less urgency to comply.
By the six-month anniversary of Blagojevich’s ouster, Illinois should have a new Freedom of Information Act signed and ready to take effect Jan. 1.
Gov. Quinn should act soon to make this happen.