Illinois House Bill 3796, which opponents argue would have severely restricted access to Freedom of Information Act-protected information, was vetoed by Governor Quinn on June 27. The bill had passed both houses of the General Assembly by an large margin (49-1 in the House, 77-36 in the Senate).
The purpose of the legislation, according to its supporters, is to assist municipalities in handling large numbers of FOIA requests for information on government proceedings. The bill would limit the number of documents that individuals may request at one time, and it would also allow government bodies to take more time in responding to requests. The restrictions would fall on primarily the general public, as there would be exemptions for members of non-profit, academic, or scientific organizations.
A number of groups, among them the Better Government Association, have lobbied against the bill. The main concern raised by opponents, beyond just the restrictions on access to information, is that, by limiting public access to records of government proceedings, government transparency could be limited. Of particular concern is that the legislation would create a separate category of requests titled “Voluminous Requests”, the definition of which could become so vague that virtually any number of requests being deemed as “large” could be placed into the category. This would be on top of several FOIA provisions that already restrict access.
The restrictions on government transparency should be of particular concern to libraries. It is especially crucial in these times, with budgets being enacted or at least discussed, that library staff members, and the public as a whole, have access to much information as possible on government proceedings. As funding decisions affecting public libraries, in particular, are made at the municipal level, transparency in those proceedings is even more crucial.
Since the bill passed both houses of the General Assembly by a wide margin, it is technically “veto-proof”, meaning that legislators can decide to hold another vote, to override the Governor’s veto. This is a situation that definitely bears monitoring.
Here is the link to the legislation on the ILGA website: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=3796&GAID=12&GA=98&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=77707&SessionID=85.