BGA Opposes End Run Around FOIA During COVID-19 Emergency

A bill introduced in the General Assembly's special session contains a provision that would relieve local governments of their obligation to produce public records during the pandemic.

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Local governments represented by the Illinois Municipal League have repeatedly petitioned Attorney General Kwame Raoul to suspend the deadlines for complying with the state Freedom Of Information Act during the current public health emergency.

The Attorney General has no authority to do so and instead has provided written guidance reminding public bodies of their responsibility to “respond to each request promptly, to the extent they are able to, given the limitation on staff and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Under a proposal before the General Assembly (SB2135, House Amendment 4), governments that failed to respond during the emergency would not be considered in violation if they comply within 30 days after the law takes effect (or in some cases later). The bill covers requests dating back to March 9.

Governments that are unable to meet statutory deadlines because of extraordinary circumstances already are covered by FOIA’s “undue burden” provision, as long as they meet their obligation to assert an exception.

Marie Dillon, BGA policy director, and Matt Topic, the BGA’s outside general counsel, submitted written testimony  opposing this change. 

Their testimony is shared below.