Smile Politely

State bill would curb FOIA rights for “recurrent requesters”

Illinois House Bill 1716, an amendment to the state Freedom of Information Act, has been passed by the state house and senate and awaits Governor Quinn’s approval. According to a State Journal-Register story from Monday:

House Bill 1716 allows public bodies to take up to 21 days to respond to FOIA requests by people who have filed more than 50 requests to the same public body, more than 15 requests in a month and more than seven requests in a week.

The legislation is needed because some frequent requesters, who still may have good intentions, “bog down local governments and deprive taxpayers and other inquiries of due consideration,” said Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the bill’s sponsor.

Those who make requests in excess of that number would be known as “recurrent requesters,” and they would also be required to pay fees for retrieval and copying of documents over and above what they’re currently charged under the law. News media were exempted from the new rules, and the following definition was offered for the fourth estate:

“News media” means a newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals whether in print or electronic format, a news service whether in print or electronic format, a radio station, a television station, a television network, a community antenna television service, or a person or corporation engaged in making news reels or other motion picture news for public showing.

It seems like online media which publish on a regular basis would be included in that definition, but who knows how it will be interpreted — not that we’ve ever had cause to submit that many FOIAs in that short of a time anyway.

The News-Gazette ran an editorial yesterday expressing concern about the speed with which the amendment was announced and passed.

It’s too fast for our taste. But efforts to minimize the state’s FOIA are generally well-treated by our public officials, most of whom pay lip service to freedom of information but really don’t believe in it very much.

FOIA requests serve as an equalizer for micro-investigative journalists, forcing government bodies to supply information that we’d normally never have the clout to garner. While this bill will have little or no effect on what we do, any weakening of the state FOIA legislation is something that will bear watching.

H/T to Brian Dolinar at UC-IMC for the heads up.

More Articles