Rollbacks of Public Access Law Becoming Law

 HB 5154

On April 29th the Illinois Senate passed HB 5154 and sent it to the Governor for his signature.  HB 5154 prohibits public access to performance evaluations of all public employees.  This is the second bill that has passed the Illinois General Assembly in 2010 that rolls back gains made in the rewrite of the old Freedom of Information Act which went into affect in Jan 1, 2010.

For more information about this bill and the 8 others that have been introduced, 1 of those becoming law – SB 315, see: Issue Brief: General Assembly Attempts Rollbacks of Public Access Law

Take a peak at who testified for & against this bill to the Illinois Senate Labor Committee:

Pro:

  • AFSCME
  • Chicago Teacher’s Union
  • City of Naperville
  • Education, Research, Development (Ed-Red)
  • Eastern Illinois University
  • Fraternal Order of Police
  • Illinois Education Association
  • Illinois Federation of Teachers
  • Illinois Municipal League
  • Illinois State Board of Education
  • Illinois Statewide School Management
  • Laborers’ International Union
  • Large Unit District Association
  • Legislative Education Network of DuPage County
  • SEIU Illinois Council
  • South Cooperative Organization for Public Education
  • Teamsters Joint Council 25
  • Will County Government League

Con:

  • ACLU
  • Illinois Broadcasters Association
  • Illinois News Broadcast Association
  • Illinois Press Association
  • Office of the Attorney General

Here is the content of a Op Ed I submitted to the Sun Times last week but was never published.

General Assembly:  Special Interests First, Citizenry Last

On Thursday April 29th the General Assembly put another nail in the coffin of the post Blagojevich reform era, if there really was ever such a thing.  The Illinois Senate passed House Bill 5154 that effectively rolls back a major progressive change to the old Freedom of Information Act in that it blocks public access to the performance evaluations of public employees.  The bill was sent to our “good government” governor Pat Quinn for his signature.   Is there anyone in Springfield looking out for the interests of the citizenry of Illinois?

Despite all the rhetoric surrounding the impeachment of former governor Rod Blagojevich little seems to have changed in Springfield since his removal from office.  In 2009 Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan seized on the spectacle surrounding the impeachment to introduce an updated version of the twenty year old Freedom of Information Act.  While the final version was weakened by special interests during the legislative process the final version was a significant improvement over the current version of the law.  Obviously state legislators believed the legislation went to far in allowing access to our government’s operations because they have now introduced 9 bills, passing two of them, since Jan 1st when the new law went into effect.

Public access to the operations, expenditures, and data created by our public bodies is essential for communities to root out corruption and bad practices in their public agencies.  All too often special interests try to frame increases for greater transparency as some sort of violation of a public employee’s privacy.  Free from this spin ordinary citizens can see they are being deprived information about how their local governmental bodies are operating.  Clearly Illinois’ legislative leaders believe that families throughout Illinois should not be able to see how well their children’s teachers are doing their jobs or how other municipal employees are serving the public.

It seems like legislators have learned nothing from the fact that Illinois is on the apex of our second governor in a row being an unwilling guest of a federal penitentiary.  Transparency must be more than a slogan; it must be part and parcel of the every day practices of our public bodies.  I am far from confident that Illinois’ new Freedom of Information law will come close to resembling anything similar to the version that became law on Jan 1st of this year when January 1st, 2011 comes to be.  Is this what passes for reform in Illinois?   If not, Governor Quinn should reject this bill outright.

Tracy Siska

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