Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced today that she has established procedures as part of her office’s implementation of the new provisions in the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA). To help the public obtain access to government records and meetings, Ms. Madigan has appointed a Public Access Counselor (PAC), expanded the staff of the Public Access Bureau and created a dedicated Hotline and e-mail address to reach the public access staff. The new law, which took effect on Jan. 1, strengthens the state’s sunshine laws and will make it easier for the public to gain access to the workings of government bodies in Illinois.
“My office has worked diligently to put in place the resources and procedures necessary to undertake this transparency effort,” said Attorney General Madigan. “We look forward to working with all Illinoisans as we move forward. I encourage the public and government officials to use the resources available through my office.”
Attorney General Madigan named Cara Smith as the office’s new Public Access Counselor and added Deputy and Assistant Public Access Counselors to the Public Access Bureau. Smith, a deputy chief of staff in the Attorney General’s office, will oversee the Public Access Bureau and work to ensure that government bodies throughout Illinois are complying with FOIA and OMA.
With the enactment of the new law, the Public Access Counselor is a permanent position in the Attorney General’s office and has the authority to review and determine whether documents must be disclosed under FOIA or whether a government body has violated the Open Meetings Act.
If a person seeking government records is forced to go to court, the new law authorizes courts to impose civil penalties of $2,500 to $5,000 when a government body willfully and intentionally violates FOIA. A court is also required to award reasonable attorneys fees and costs to a plaintiff who successfully sues to obtain a public record.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, “the new law also significantly strengthens and clarifies FOIA to make it easier for people to obtain public records. In particular, the law establishes a ‘presumption of transparency’ for public records and requires government bodies that want to withhold a document to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the law allows them to do that. The new law also shortens the initial time for a government body to respond to a FOIA request from seven to five business days.”
The Attorney General’s Web site, www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov, provides educational materials on FOIA and OMA, including Frequently Asked Questions about FOIA and OMA and a Guide to the work of the Public Access Counselor.
Anyone seeking assistance from the Public Access Bureau may call the Public Access Hotline at 1-877-299-FOIA (3642) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.