State

FOIA reform signed

A souped-up Illinois Freedom of Information Act was one of several reform bills signed into law Monday by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Calling the Chicago ceremony a “great day for Illinois,” Quinn signed the new FOIA bill into law, as well as transparency bills championed by several McHenry County legis­lators. The new FOIA, which takes ef­fect Jan. 1, significantly improves an open-records law that critics call one of the nation’s weakest.

“Today, Illinois comes out of the Stone Age and into the modern era of transparency and openness,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who spearheaded the FOIA rewrite.

Quinn also signed a bill drafted by state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, that creates a searchable Internet database of all employee salaries and state contracts. Another bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, does the same for boards and commissions appointed by the governor, and imposes stricter appointment requirements.

Quinn called the bills part of a “year of reform” aimed at curtailing corruption in the wake of former Gov. Rod Bla­gojevich’s arrest and impeachment.

“The people of Illinois deserve an open, ethical and transparent government,” Quinn said.

The new FOIA shortens the time that governments have to respond to records requests. It also empowers the attorney general’s public access counselor with binding authority to enforce the act, and for the first time imposes civil penalties for governments that willfully violate it.

While the new version contains many of the exemptions of the current version, it requires governments to get approval from the public access counselor before citing exemptions for personal privacy and preliminary drafts of reports. Transparency advocates have claimed that those two provisions are among the most frequently abused.

Quinn made no changes to the FOIA bill, despite pressure from groups such as the Illinois Municipal League and the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, which urged him to veto many of its reforms.

Groups such as the Better Government and the Illinois Press Association, of which the Northwest Herald is a member, likewise urged Quinn to sign the bill as is. It sailed through the General Assembly in May with only one opposing vote.

Tryon said the new Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal would help reduce corruption and patronage in state contracts and hiring.

“This is, I think, Illinois setting the example for the rest of the country on how to be transparent,” Tryon said.

The new portal can be found at accountability.illinois.gov. The new database of state boards and commissions can be found at appointments.illinois.gov.

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