FOIAILLINOIS

Proposed restrictions to FOIA opposed by transparency advocates

Advocates for public access and transparent government are voicing opposition to a bill that would place restrictions on FOIA requests regarding public facilities’ finances when they rent out space.

Rep. Robert Rita (D-28) is the sponsor of HB 3621 which calls for further restrictions to the Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act.

According to LegiScan.com, The bill, which is expected to be called today before the House Business and Occupational Licenses Committee, “…Amends the Freedom of Information Act. Denies home rule powers by providing that the regulation of the inspection and disclosure of public records of a public body is an exclusive power and function of the State. Exempts from inspection and copying under the Act incentives provided to and rent paid by persons, organizations, or businesses that agree to make use of a public facility for a convention, trade show, meeting, athletic contest, concert, musical, dramatic, or other artistic, cultural, or social event. Effective immediately.”

The bill is actively being opposed by the Better Government Association, the Attorney General’s office, the Illinois Press Association, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

In an email to proponents of public access and transparency in government, the BGA noted that “…Our attorney believes that the bill would violate the Illinois Constitution, so we may not have anything to worry about. Still, Rita was the architect of last year’s HB 3796, the voluminous requester bill that got through the legislature…”

In an informational packet prepared for legislators, the BGA warns that passage of the bill:

*  Would hide public facilities’ finances when they rent out space

*  Violates the principles of government transparency

*  Violates the state constitution.

*  Results in unnecessary legal costs before the courts invalidate it.

The BGA also notes that:

FOIA access to financial records about publicly owned facilities is necessary to allow the public to determine whether public officials are doing an effective job of collecting revenue from facilities that are owned by the public.

Without transparency, it will be difficult to determine whether public officials are personally profiting from—or well-managing—public facilities.

Under HB3621 provisions:

* Crain’s might not have been able to report on threats to McCormick Place’s trade show business, including rental increases that drove away two trade shows and risked others, in the wake of politicized management issues. http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20111112/ISSUE01/311129979/crains-investigation-the-high-price-of-political-payback-at-mccormick-place

* For U.S. Cellular Field, taxpayers fronted $150MM of its $167MM construction cost, and have made up shortages in hotel tax revenue going to the facility, but they would not be able to FOIA its financial dealings with facility users.

* Bridgeview taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $250MM for Toyota Park, but under provisions of HB3621 would not be able to FOIA records on specifically how the facility generates income or what deals it offers. There is good reason for maintaining vigorous public oversight through FOIA.  The Chicago Tribune reported that “a significant portion of the borrowed funds acquired for the stadium project went to companies with ties to high-level village employees, political supporters of town leaders, and the mayor’s family.”http://northwesternbusinessreview.org/bridgewater-taxpayers-on-hook-for-toyota-park/

The complete document can be found at: http://goo.gl/hkixxB