Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

July 16, 2014

Don't restrict FOIA

Kudos to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor vetoed a measure that would greatly restrict an ordinary citizen’s ability to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

I don’t agree with the governor on a lot of things, but this veto was the proper response to a very bad bill that would have charged ordinary citizens fees as great as $100 if they file request for large documents or make multiple requests in a short period of time.

Sometimes government officials forget just who they work for.

The FOIA is a powerful tool. During the course of my journalism career I have filed more than 5,000 FOIA requests with more than 1,000 governmental entities. And I’ve uncovered a great deal of waste, fraud and abuse.

In the years I was a City Hall reporter, I saw plenty of instances where those in power gave ordinary citizens the brush off.

Folks who showed up at city council meetings to listen and speak at the end were labeled “cranks.”

Those who filed FOIA requests were called troublemakers.

But let’s not forget that government belongs to the people, not the bureaucrats.

Our lawmakers lost sight of that during the waning days of this year’s legislative session and passed a bill that penalizes citizens for filing FOIA requests.

We should be encouraging ordinary people to find out more about their government, not discouraging it.

Here is what Quinn had to say in his veto message:

“House Bill 3796 is a bill that reduces government transparency by limiting the ability of citizens to seek public records under the Freedom of Information Act. The bill as proposed would make it more difficult for citizens to obtain a large volume of records. It would also slow down the process for individuals who lack electronic means to request or obtain information. Such burdens on the public penalize anyone seeking to learn more about their government.”

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