State could limit FOIA requests

  • Scott Sanders/ssanders@dailyherald.comShannon Burns, who lives just east of the maintenance garages at Blackwell Forest Preserve in rural West Chicago, has repeatedly submitted FOIA requests to the DuPage Forest Preserve, which is one of many units of local government that could get relief from requests with legislation that could limit citizens' FOIA rights.

    Scott Sanders/ssanders@dailyherald.comShannon Burns, who lives just east of the maintenance garages at Blackwell Forest Preserve in rural West Chicago, has repeatedly submitted FOIA requests to the DuPage Forest Preserve, which is one of many units of local government that could get relief from requests with legislation that could limit citizens' FOIA rights.

 
By Jeff Engelhardt
Updated 3/12/2011 5:33 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- Some state lawmakers want to limit citizens' rights to request information from local governments as many cities and villages struggle to handle more requests for public records.

Legislation proposed in the Illinois Senate would give local governments the ability to ignore some rules when it comes to information requests if a citizen makes 15 or more Freedom of Information Act filings in one year.

 

Under the plan, if officials believe someone is requesting so much information that they're tying up workers' time and inhibiting government functions, they can label the request as "vexatious" or "unduly burdensome" and ignore the requirement that they must respond within five days.

Just last week, the Daily Herald reported that the DuPage County Forest Preserve has seen its FOIA requests jump from roughly 40 per year to 187 and 167 in the last two years.

Paul Hinds, the DuPage County Freedom of Information Act officer, said each unit of local government is different, and some simply can't handle all the requests.

"I do think that the public thinks everything is computerized and all you have to do is hit the F3 button and it pops up," he said. "A lot of this stuff is in boxes, even some of the current stuff."

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Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of the conservative coalition For the Good of Illinois, said government could avoid the burden of responding to FOIA requests by making all information available online.

The Hinsdale resident and former Republican governor candidate said his organization has pushed for full government disclosure and there is no reason for anything less in this digital age.

"Government created the hurdle of the request and now they want to regulate the request," Andrzejewski said. "In the Internet age, the standard on public information should be proactive posting."

While Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno did not go as far to say everything should be publicly available online, she said the proposed measure goes too far.

The Lemont lawmaker said she used to file FOIA requests regularly and knows how frustrating it can be to seek information that should be publicly available.

"It's one of the reasons I got involved in politics in the first place," she said. "While we need to achieve balance, I don't think this does it."