FOIA Firestorm Sparked

Dec 2, 2014

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, declined to call a bill that makes controversial changes to the Freedom of Information Act during a House Executive committee meeting Monday.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Advocates for government transparency still have a fight ahead over the state's Freedom of Information Act. That's despite a temporary reprieve yesterday.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, of Chicago, caught transparency advocates off guard last week, with just a handful of days remaining in the legislative session. She introduced a plan that would make it harder for members of the public to obtain government information. It would also make it harder for citizens to recover legal fees when governments illegally withhold documents.

Currie says the proposed changes weren't actually her idea; rather -- it's a plan pushed by another prominent Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton.

"I think that the ideas came from people who thought that some of the agreements that resulted in the 2009 legislation no longer seem to apply, but I think others disagree," Currie said of the measure's origins.

The plan was supposed to be heard by a House committee yesterday, on Mon., Dec. 1. Instead, after a swift backlash, Currie declined to call it.

Still, she hinted of a looming fight over changes to FOIA.

"We'll see where the conversation begins to take us. There certainly is a lot of opposition," she said. "If they (Cullerton and other backers) want a discussion, I think we certainly have started one. Possibly not just a discussion, a firestorm. But we will see where we go from here."

Cullerton's office says it's working with the House to fine-tune the measure this week.

Groups like the Better Government Association and the Attorney General's office are opposed to the changes.

The Senate this week could also vote on a separate FOIA measure opposed by those groups. It would increase fees for getting copies of some government documents. Governor Pat Quinn vetoed that plan, but if the Senate follows the House and overrides him, it will become law.