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posted: 5/13/2014 5:01 AM

Awareness of FOIA process stronger than ever

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In response to the Daily Herald report "FOIA requests, costs increasing in many municipalities," public bodies in Illinois should be ashamed of themselves when they complain about FOIA requests. These public bodies continually frame FOIA as a burden and refuse to recognize that complying with it is a cost of doing public business.

Public bodies that complain would do better to embrace public participation and be proactive to make records public as they are created; not just the easy routine records. If the proportion of public record requests made by individuals, as compared to commercial requests, has increased, it signals that people are aware of the important civic tool of FOIA and how to use it in becoming better informed about government operations.

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Here are two reasons for increased FOIA requests. First, the 2010 FOIA reform added teeth to the statute with provisions such as granting enforcement power to the Public Access Counselor. Aside from disappointing rollback legislation, access to government records is stronger overall. The PAC must evaluate facts of the public record request against the requirements under the law. The best way to establish facts is through documentation of communications, including through written FOIA requests.

Second, FOIA reform updated the statute and expanded the records available. For example, electronic records are explicitly subject to FOIA, as are litigation settlements. The FOIA law also now makes clear at the outset that "All records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying," and raises the bar for what a public body has to do to deny a record legitimately. Between this presumption and FOIA's enforcement mechanism, Illinoisans formerly discouraged by nonresponsive public bodies have increased hope that their acts of public participation through submitting FOIA requests are not in vain.

Maryam Judar

Executive Director/Community Lawyer

Citizen Advocacy Center

Elmhurst

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