Editorial: House bill strengthens Open Meetings Act; now let's do more
GOP State Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills accomplished a rare feat for an Illinois politician these days. His bill strengthening the Illinois Open Meetings Act passed in the Illinois House with a unanimous 110-0 vote.
We expect no less from the Illinois Senate when state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, moves the bill in that chamber.
The legislation, said McSweeney, "fixes what I see as a gap in the current law, which is presently impractical in its time constraints."
Instead of having to report an Open Meetings Act violation within 60 days of it occurring, the proposal changes the time frame to within 60 days of discovering a potential violation.
"Too often violations come to light, and under the current act, it's too late to report them. We need common sense to bridge the gap," said McSweeney, who was prompted to file the legislation because of controversy last year surrounding a proposed power plant in Oakwood Hills in McHenry County. Those opposed to the plant found out about a closed village meeting discussing the plant a year after it happened. Nothing could be done under the current open meetings law.
But this should only be a first step in strengthening the Open Meetings Act. Last year we called for more teeth in the state Freedom of Information Act to force compliance from local governments and the same is true for the Open Meetings Act. There is little consequence for violating the law.
McSweeney acknowledged as much in a radio interview in Springfield this week and agrees that his bill is just the first step.
"Especially in these days when we're talking about a fiscal crisis in this state ... it's very, very important the public has full awareness of what is going on. If local officials violate it, there should be teeth."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who supported McSweeney's bill, has been a leading advocate of increased transparency. She said her office receives more than 3,400 requests annually from citizens seeking help to access government information and to "fight the state's culture of secrecy."
It's a nationwide battle. Next week marks the 10th anniversary of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. McSweeney's bill and Madigan's efforts are good examples of the progress being made in Illinois.
In a few weeks, voters can do their part. Candidates for local office will be elected throughout the suburbs -- do you know how they feel about government transparency? If not, find out. For incumbents, have they practiced transparency in office rather than just talking about it?
Key questions to know before heading to the polls on April 7.