House approves bill that would delay in responding to FOIA requests

Chris Wetterich

People who frequently file Freedom of Information Act requests would have to wait longer for their requests to be fulfilled under a bill that passed the Illinois Senate on Monday.

House Bill 1716 allows public bodies to take up to 21 days to respond to FOIA requests by people who have filed more than 50 requests to the same public body, more than 15 requests in a month and more than seven requests in a week.

Once the initial response is sent out, public bodies can fulfill the request, based on its size and complexity, within a “reasonable” amount of time, unless the information is exempt from disclosure.

The bill would not apply to the news media or non-profit or scientific organizations.

The legislation is needed because some frequent requesters, who still may have good intentions, “bog down local governments and deprive taxpayers and other inquiries of due consideration,” said Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation also removes a requirement that the attorney general’s public access counselor pre-approve a public bodies’ decision not to release information covered by certain exemptions in the law. It also allows fees to be charged to commercial requesters whose requests will take more than eight hours to fulfill.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan supports the bill, while the Illinois Press Association was neutral. The Better Government Association and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform testified against the bill.

“Considering there have historically been issues with some public bodies responding to requests within even a clear statutory timeframe, we fear that some public bodies may interpret ‘reasonable’ to be months or even years,” said Whitney Woodward, a policy associate with the Illinois Campaign For Political Reform.

The bill passed 43-16. It now heads to the House.