Monday, November 15, 2010

Lawmakers look to chip away at disclosure law in veto session

Just months after updates to Illinois’ open records law went into effect, some members of the Illinois General Assembly are seeking to roll back a part of the statute.

The House is scheduled to try to override a gubernatorial veto in the fall session, known as the veto session, as early as this week.

ICPR urges lawmakers to support transparency by not overriding the governor’s veto.

Earlier this year, the Illinois General Assembly approved a bill, HB 5154, which would prohibit the disclosure of performance evaluations of state employees. The move to shield these documents from the public came without any examples or incidents of problematic enforcement.

The bill’s passage came just a couple months after updates to the Freedom of Information Act, which the General Assembly passed in the wake of the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich on corruption charge, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Unlike HB 5154, those improvements were intended to increase sunshine – not block it out.

Gov. Pat Quinn issued an amendatory veto on HB 5154, arguing in his veto message that the proposal was a “departure from groundbreaking legislation that I approved just last year, making our State’s open information laws among the most robust in the entire country.”

In rejecting HB 5154, Quinn suggested that the exemption be more narrowly tailored to keep private only the performance evaluations of law enforcement.

While Quinn’s proposal is slightly less acrid than the original, ICPR believes that even his proposal is unnecessary. Transparency in government is of fundamental importance; limiting such transparency is not in the public's interest.

The General Assembly has three options:

- Accept Quinn’s amendatory veto with a simple majority vote, thus codifying the exemption for law enforcement evaluations only; or
- Override Quinn’s amendatory veto with a 3/5 supermajority vote, thus approving the broad exemption which prevents disclosure of all employees evaluations, in HB 5154;
- Fail to do either, thus allowing HB 5154 to die and continue to allow disclosure of performance evaluations.

ICPR joins the Better Government Association, ChicagoAppleseed for Justice, Citizen Advocacy Center Illinois, Illinois PIRG, the Illinois Press Association, and the League of Women Voters of Illinois, in urging the General Assembly to choose transparency and reject the governor’s veto and the legislation.

For more information, check out a story from the State Journal-Register, and editorials from the Chicago Tribune, the State Journal-Register and the Rockford Register-Star.

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