‘Recurrent’ open records requesters could face delays under new law
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief email@example.com August 26, 2011 9:22PM
Updated: November 4, 2011 11:57AM
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois residents who repeatedly make open-records requests to their towns, school districts and counties could face new restrictions that would keep them from getting information quickly under legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed Friday.
His decision unleashed sharp criticism from government watchdog groups that accused Quinn of eroding the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and retreating from earlier statements in support of open government.
For the first time, local governments could characterize anyone who files more than seven FOIA requests in a week or more than 15 in a month as a “recurrent requester,” giving the public bodies unlimited time to provide documents. Media, academics and researchers are exempt from the new standard.
Current law gives those governments five business days to answer a records request, with the option of an additional five-day extension.
“It is disappointing that Gov. Quinn, who once cultivated an image of himself as an advocate of open government, has approved a bill that takes Illinois’ FOIA law backward,” said Whitney Woodward, a policy associate with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which opposed the bill.
“It is ironic that at the same time as Illinois moves in reverse, Chicago and Cook County elected leaders are advancing open government through the posting of more government records and data sets online,” Woodward said.
In a statement, the governor’s office did not directly address the criticisms raised by the government watchdog groups. However, Quinn aides said the bill will speed up response times for documents by dropping a time-consuming requirement established in 2009 that the attorney general’s office advise local governments whether their planned denials on certain exemptions were proper.
“For the overwhelming majority of FOIA requesters, this legislation will make the process faster and more responsive,” Quinn spokeswoman Brie Callahan said. .
The measure Quinn signed also allows local governments to impose potentially costly new retrieval fees on companies that seek public records and no longer gives those businesses the ability to appeal a records rejection with the attorney general’s office.