Madigan has FOIA enforcer in place

Chris Rizo Dec. 21, 2009, 12:17pm

Lisa Madigan (D)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline)- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has tapped a senior aide to see to it that provisions of the state's Freedom of Information Act are followed by public agencies.

Madigan's deputy chief of staff, Cara Smith, will oversee compliance with the state FOIA law. Aimed at making government more transparent, the statute was expanded this year. The law's new provisions take effect Jan. 1.

Madigan called for lawmakers to adopt legislation this year to make public records more available. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, came after negotiations between Madigan, local governments and other interested parties, including the Illinois Press Association.

Among other things, the new law shortens the time frame for governmental bodies to respond to public records requests -- from seven to five business days and shortens the time allowed in an extension from seven to five business days.

The new law will also allow Smith, as public access counselor, to issue decisions on whether public bodies should or should not release public records. The decision can then be enforced by the courts.

For government entities that flout the new law, they could be slapped with fines up to $5,000.

The law also establishes a presumption that all records are public and confirms if a public agency seeks to shield documents it has the burden of proving that the record is exempt by providing "clear and convincing evidence."

Madigan has said the law -- outlined in Senate Bill 189 -- puts some teeth into the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and helps ensure the state's boards and commissions are open and accessible to the public.

"By creating a public access counselor with binding opinion authority to fight for an open and accountable government, Illinois is now at the nation's forefront. With this new law, the people of Illinois will now have a greater ability to know what their government is doing," Madigan said after the bill's August signing.

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