Dillon and Topic: FOIA Is Essential During COVID-19 Emergency (and Always)
Staying at home saves lives. Illinois residents have absorbed that message, and it’s reinforced daily by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Riding out the COVID-19 emergency in our socially distanced units, we’ve come to rely on their afternoon briefings for detailed and forthright updates. Public cooperation depends on knowing what our government is doing to meet these unprecedented challenges, and why. Lightfoot and Pritzker seem to get that.
The rest of us get this: It’s impossible for governments to do all the things they’d normally do. Protecting citizens and public employees is job one. That’s why Pritzker’s March 16 executive order allows governments to prioritize their actions, performing only essential functions.
But what’s non-essential? Chicago isn’t towing or booting vehicles except for safety-related violations. The Secretary of State has extended deadlines for driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations. The state crime lab isn’t processing routine drug tests.
Now there’s a debate over whether it’s essential for governments to respond to public records requests from reporters and citizens during the pandemic.