Jerry Moore: Illinois senator wants to lengthen FOIA request time

Jerry Moore

Here’s the message from Springfield, Ill., lately: Legislators are irritated that you, the citizen, have become an annoying pest.

By demanding information, you get in the way of government entities doing their jobs. Somehow, you’ve come to believe that you have an inherent right to peek over their shoulders.

Don’t you realize how burdensome it is for government officials to be held accountable to the people who pay their salaries? Can’t you see how efficient it would be if you simply allowed public bodies to operate in secret?

Some members of the Illinois Senate are doing something about this. Just in time for Sunshine Week, which is now being observed, the Senate began pushing through the committee a bill to alter the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

State Sen. Ed Maloney, D-18th District, of Chicago introduced Senate Bill 1645, which would lengthen the response time a governmental entity has to turn over public records if the FOIA request is made by someone labeled as “vexatious.” The turnaround time mandated by law is now five working days. That would grow to 21 days under this proposal.

My dictionary defines “vexatious” as anything that is “troublesome, annoying.” Under this bill, you would be considered vexatious if you dared to submit 15 information requests in a year’s time. On the 16th such request, the government entity could drag its heels for at least three weeks in making the documents available.

I realize that some people make a lot of requests to public bodies, but that’s part of the responsibility of working in government. You have to answer to the people you serve.

At first glance, it looks as if members of the news media would be exempt from this bill. But even here the legislation has caveats.

The bill says that journalists wouldn’t be subjected to the delay “if the principal purpose of the request is (i) to access and disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events or (ii) for articles of opinion or features of interest to the public.” Call me suspicious, but I detect wiggle room for bureaucratic interpretation.

So, perhaps we should simply stop pestering the government and let it operate any way it wants. We’d be like the parents of a spoiled teenager with a credit card –– just continue paying the bill and keep your mouth shut to maintain the peace.

Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications. Contact him at (630) 368-8930