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An Update on a Critical Threat to FOIA

From Bob Roberts, INBA's FOI/OMA Chair:

     The misguided bill that would put all public employee evaluations off limits to the public and the press in Illinois was rammed through the Illinois Senate Labor Committee 7-3 this week. It now goes to the Senate floor, where it faces its final legislative vote. The time to write, e-mail or call your legislator urging opposition to the bill is now, and if you commit those thoughts to paper or e-mail, copy Gov. Pat Quinn.

      Illinoisans need and deserve more open access to government records and information about how their tax dollars are being spent. Because of HB5154, that new law is in jeopardy.
      State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) introduced a measure this session to repeal a huge chunk of the benefit of the law, which took effect in January. Its Senate sponsor is State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Chicago), while State Sens. David Koehler (D-Pekin) and Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) are signed on as co-sponsors.
      Because it would exempt all performance evaluations from disclosure, no one would be able to learn whether taxpayer-financed workers are truly doing their jobs, or whether political influence is dictating their fate on an annual basis. It can cover up a multitude of sins.
      INBA is fighting this measure – but we need the support of journalists everywhere in Illinois, on all platforms. On our side are the Illinois Attorney General's office, Illinois Press Association, Illinois Broadcasters Association, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, ACLU, Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Citizen Advocacy Center. While that may sound formidable, the opposition is led by the Illinois Municipal League, Illinois State Police, Teamsters Council 25, State Board of Education, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association, AFSCME, Illinois Association of Park Districts and more. Get the picture?
      The supporters are heavy-hitters at the Capitol. Many are aligned with the Democrats who control the levers of state government. So we have to become heavy-hitters, too.
      One of the arguments for passing this measure is that people will be submitting droves of requests for job evaluations. But that is simply not true. The Illinois Attorney General’s office has seen few such requests in its role as arbiter of public information requests. Further, the newly-improved FOI law has a process in place for municipalities, schools and other entities that believe the request should be denied, so those entities have adequate opportunity, all the way up to the courts, to make their case for refusal.

Here's what we want, and need, you to do:

- Produce stories about how this bill would affect citizens’ right to information. Interview subjects include the Illinois Attorney General's office, and any of HB5154’s other opponents. You can localize the story by looking for folks who have submitted FOIA requests and appreciate the access, or were disappointed by the lack of access.
- News directors or general managers should write their local state Senator saying they oppose the legislation. We have a list of Senators' best e-mail addresses, and can furnish them upon request.
- Any stories or editorials -- and we encourage editorials -- should be copied and sent to those Senators and to INBA.
We're here to fight for the rights of journalists and citizens alike. After all, our responsibility is to the citizens. View the progress of the bill at (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/votehistory/96/house/09600HB5154_03112010_030000T.pdf).

Give the new FOI law a chance! Please be a part of this effort.

 

 

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