Fix FOIA Now

Newspapers around the state have been running editorials in favor of SB 189, the Freedom of Information Act reform bill. Saying that newspapers strongly support FOIA is probably akin to a dog bites man story. As is saying that ICPR also strongly supports the bill.

But today's Daily Herald editorial gave some of the reasons why they support the bill, and we at ICPR can identify with these problems:

Our reporters battled some bureaucrats for months when we tried to learn about red-light cameras for our recent "Seeing Red" investigative series. One village clerk said we didn't need the documents because others had reported on the cameras. Another village official called the request a waste of time.

In all, it took more than two months to obtain documents about a government program operating all over the region. It should take seven days under the existing loophole-ridden law.

As part of our review of lobbying by units of government, we at ICPR send out hundreds of FOIA requests each year. (here's a PDF of our most recent report) Most units respond promptly, and we commend them for that. After all that's what the law requires. But what we cannot understand is why so many units of government fail to respond in a timely fashion; and sometimes, not at all.

It's not just small governments that violate the law (thinking here of the Village of Bellwood, which received our letter 11 months ago and still has not responded, despite phone calls, follow-up letters and an in-person site visit). The City of Chicago and Cook County have both taken months to respond in each of the last two years. Chicago and Cook have law departments bigger than most law firms; they ought to know what the law requires.

Every time we do the report, there are a dozen or more units that ignore our requests. It is not practical for us to sue each and every unit that does not respond in a timely manner. Should it be necessary that we do so?

Of course not. But to make the law work as it was intended, what is necessary is that Gov. Quinn sign SB 189. We urge him to sign SB 189 pronto.