Watchdog Group: Quinn Weakens State Freedom Of Information Act With New Provisions

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a law Friday that gives government entities a longer time period to respond to requests for public records, despite a previous pledge to make such records more accessible and the open records process more transparent.

The measure (HB 1716), which amends the required Freedom of Information Act response time from five business days to 21 days, goes into effect immediately and also allows government groups to charge FOIA requesters for the costs associated with retrieving the desired information, the Chicago Tribune reports. "Recurrent" requesters are defined as anyone who submits more than seven FOIA requests over the course of a week -- or more than 15 in a month.

Many individuals who file FOIA requests, including the media, academics and government watchdog groups said Quinn's signing of the law erodes the state's open records law and contrasts previous statements the governor has made in support of transparency.

The Northwest Herald indicated there is reason for watchdog groups and journalists to express alarm at the curtailed FOIA law. As the law was written in 2006, according to a Better Government Association investigation, more than 60 percent of Illinois governments failed to comply with the law -- 40 percent never even responded to the requests.

However, Quinn's office claims that "for the overwhelming majority of FOIA requesters, this legislation will make the process faster and more responsive," the Sun-Times reports.

In 2009, Quinn spoke in support of more transparency in government and easier access to public records. He even issued a memo to state agencies urging that all requests they receive under the open records law be considered valid unless the law clearly forbids the requested information from being released.