Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Illinois governor signs improved open-records law

Illinois, a big state that has had one of the nation's weakest open-records laws (according to David Cullier of the Society of Professional Journalists), now has a much better one, following the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn yesterday.

"The new law establishes the first-ever fines for Freedom of Information Act violations, includes training for public employees so they know how to comply with public records laws and gives the attorney general's office enforcement authority," The Associated Press reports. In a court action, the agency wanting to withhold records will have the burden of proof, and will be required to pay the other side's costs if it loses. Agencies must now respond to records requests in five days, not seven.

"Attorney General Lisa Madigan says at all levels of government, officials often ignored complaints that they've violated the state's Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act," Chicago public station WBEZ-FM reports. "Madigan says the new law will make it easier for the public to access records. And for the first time, those who violate the sunshine laws could face penalties of up to $5,000."

Quinn got "pressure not to sign or to use his amendatory veto to change the bill from the Illinois State's Attorney's Association, the Illinois Municipal League and local units of government," the weekly Ledger-Sentinel of Oswego said in an editorial that criticized Quinn's delay in signing the bill, which the legislature passed almost seven weeks ago.

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