Issue Brief: General Assembly Attempts Rollbacks of Public Access Law

Illinois’ General Assembly quickly and quietly introduces and passes legislation to bar the public access to their government. Issue Brief published March 2010.

Statement from the Executive Director:

State legislatures play a crucial role in determining the public’s ability to access records and data produced by their local government. Unfortunately, the Illinois General Assembly has wasted no time in introducing and passing legislation to rollback progressive advancements in the recently updated Illinois Freedom of Information Act that went into effect on January 1st. Out from under the media spotlight of the Blagojevich impeachment, our legislators have moved quickly and quietly to make sure that the more open laws governing public access to government records are closed down before we citizens can ever get a chance to use them.

My question is: who is looking out for the citizens of Illinois who’s right to learn about how their government is serving them is being restricted in an effort to cater to special interests?

Civic participation is required for a democracy to be strong. Restricted access only suppresses civic participation and lays the foundation for distrust of public institutions. Without citizen access to information, state legislatures can operate without the knowledge or consent of community residents. In the early weeks of 2010, the Illinois General Assembly did just this by moving to reduce the scope of Illinois’ public access law without ever informing their constituents. Throughout Illinois citizens need local, county, and state agencies to use public data for the public interest. This can only be done if state legislators prioritize the needs of their constituents to access their government ahead of the wishes of special interests.

A copy of our Issue Brief as well as each piece of legislation as introduced are available for download below.

19th Century Laws for a 21st Century Government

state sealHouse Bill 5069 removes a mandate that public bodies release data in a digital format if the agency maintains the data in a digital format. This rollback would significantly impair the public’s ability to analyze data created through the daily operations of our public bodies. It is only through large-scale data analysis that the patterns and practices of the institutions can be analyzed. Basing conclusions about how any agency is operating from the review of a small number of cases is not sound public policy. Twenty-first century governing does not benefit from nineteenth century public access legislation but requires a twenty-first century public access law.

Secret Policing

Legislators have introduced four pieces of legislation (HB 5154, HB 6119, SB 2978, SB 3040) that will limit how much information is available from local police departments. From officers’ performance reviews to investigations stemming from citizens complaints, legislators are moving to restrict access. Restrictions on public access to data from policing agencies only work to increase divisions between communities and the police. Legislators have acted quickly in 2010 to introduced legislation to continue to drape police activities in secrecy rather than inviting communities to become fully informed partners with their local policing agency.

Education’s Secret Evaluations

Illinois legislators took just 15 days to make sure that parents are denied access to evaluations to the most important educationpublic servants in their children’s lives. As part of a much larger education bill, legislators took steps to remove the ability for the public to access performance evaluations of teachers, principals, and superintendents. Pubic policy should have the goal of empowering communities with the information they need to be engaged parents and community members. Restricted access guarantees that citizens will either act on less than all the facts or not act at all. Neither is good for a democracy.

Special Interests & Advocates on public access to our government

This is a list of special interests against access and advocates for access that testified in front of committees of the Illinois General Assembly supporting the new restrictions proposed on Illinois’ public access laws.*

Special Interest Groups:

Advocates:

Legislation

Legislation Introduced and a description of the information the public will be prohibited from accessing if these bills become law:

Access denied to:  Performance evaluations of teachers, principals, and superintendents.

Sponsors: 

Senate Sponsors:

Kimberly A. Lightford (D), 4th District – Westchester

James T. Meeks (D), 15th District – Calumet City

Iris Y. Martinez (D), 20th District – Chicago

Jacqueline Y. Collins (D), 16th District – Chicago

William Delgado (D), 2nd District – Chicago

Emil Jones III (D), 14th District – Chicago

Mattie Hunter (D), 13th District – Chicago

House Sponsors:

Linda Chapa LaVia (D), 83rd District – Aurora

LaShawn K. Ford (D), 8th District – Chicago

Eddie Washington (D), 60th District – Waukegan

Paul D. Froehlich (D), 56th District – Schaumburg

Elizabeth Hernandez (D), 24th District – Cicero

Status:  Signed into Law on Jan 15th, 2010

Access denied to:  Findings & recommendations of the Juvenile Justice Mortality Review Team

Sponsors: Representative Arthur L. Turner (D), 9th District – Chicago

Status:  Passed out of Juvenile Justice Reform Committee 3/10/10

Access denied to:  Records maintained in a digital format.

Sponsors:  Representative Patrick J. Verschoore (D), 72nd District – Rock Island

Status:  In Rules Committee

Access denied to:  Information about service recipients, registrants, licensees, and program participants.

Sponsors:  Representative Michael G. Connelly (R), 48th District – Naperville

Status:  In Rules Committee

Access denied to:  Performance evaluations of all public employees.

Sponsors:

Senate Sponsors:

Kimberly A. Lightford (D), 4th District – Westchester – Assistant Majority Leader

David Koehler (D), 46th District – Pekin

House Sponsors:

Linda Chapa LaVia (D), 83rd District – Aurora

Paul D. Froehlich (D), 56th District – Schaumburg

William D. Burns (D), 26th District – Chicago

Monique D. Davis (D), 27th District – Chicago

Anthony DeLuca (D), 80th District – Crete

Joseph M. Lyons (D), 19th District – Chicago – Assistant Majority Leader

Michael K. Smith (D), 91st District – Pekin

Patrick J. Verschoore (D), 72nd District – Rock Island

Status:  Passed out of State Government Administration Committee 3/03/10

Passed out of House of Representative 3/11/10

Access denied to:  Records created through administrative enforcement proceedings.

Sponsors: Representative Elaine Nekritz (D), 57th District – Des Plaines

Status:  In State Government Committee

Access denied to:  Records of grievance or disciplinary processes regarding the employment of public employees.

Sponsors:  Representative John J. Millner (R), 28th District – Bloomingdale

Status:  Referred to Assignment Committee (2nd time)

Access denied to:  Performance evaluations for law enforcement officers.

Sponsors:  Senator William R. Haine (D), 56th District – Alton

Status:  Referred to Assignment Committee (2nd time)

Access denied to:  Changes mandate governing a public body’s request response period.

Sponsors:  Senator Don Harmon (D), 39th District – Oak Park – Assistant Majority Leader

Status:  Passed out of Executive Committee 3/11/10