Illinois governor signs AG-backed opens records law

By Chris Rizo | Aug 18, 2009

Lisa Madigan (D)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline)-Open records legislation championed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The new law, aimed at making government more transparent and public records more available, came after months of negotiations among the attorney general, lawmakers and interested parties, including the Illinois Press Association.

The revised state Freedom of Information Act will take effect Jan. 1.

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 also allows Madigan, a Democrat, to have her public access counselor 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 said the law -- outlined in Senate Bill 189 -- puts some teeth into the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and helps ensures the state's boards and commissions are open and accessible to the public.

"Today, Illinois comes out of the Stone Age and into the modern era of transparency and openness," Madigan said. "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 urged lawmakers to adopt changes to the Freedom of Information Act in the wake of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment this year. The former Democratic governor was criticized for flouting the state's FOIA law.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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