Local Government

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signs law boosting fines for FOIA non-compliance

A new state law will make it expensive for local governments that choose not to comply with orders to turn over documents ruled public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 4715 into law, which significantly increases fines that can be levied against local governments if they violate court orders or binding attorney general’s opinions that a FOIA request denied by the body must be made public.

The law is one of two signed by Rauner that collectively are called “Molly’s Law,” named in honor of a family that encountered roadblocks trying to investigate their young daughter’s death.

House Bill 4715 allows the court to fine a government up to $1,000 a day if it does not comply with an order to comply with a FOIA request and turn over disputed records. It also gives people the ability to sue should a government fail to comply after 35 days with a binding opinion from the attorney general that a record must be released.

Molly Young was 21 when she was found dead of a gunshot wound to her head in 2012 at the apartment of her former boyfriend, a Carbondale Police dispatcher.

The family, who did not believe the Southern Illinois University student’s death was a suicide as had been ruled, repeatedly sought documents regarding the case from the city police and the Illinois State Police.

Their efforts were stymied to the point that a wrongful-death lawsuit they filed in 2015 was tossed out due to the two-year statute of limitations. No one was ever charged over Young’s death.

The companion bill to Molly’s Law that Rauner also signed, House Bill 6083, extends the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases to five years after the date of death or one year after the criminal case against the perpetrator concludes.

“This bill provides families a longer timeframe to bring wrongful death actions against perpetrators of intentional violent crimes, and gives families access to the necessary public information to find closure in a loved one’s death,” Rauner said in a statement.

State lawmakers in 2009, following the arrest and impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, significantly strengthened the state FOIA, which media and good-government groups had long complained was far too weak, too easy to abuse and contained no punishments for violating it.

Molly’s Law takes effect Jan. 1.

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