Freedom of information a must in Illinois

By Editorial Board

At a time when the state of Illinois may have lost faith in its government after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached, Atty. General Lisa Madigan has proposed beefing up Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act so the state can cleanse its reputation by making more information available, lessening its image of secrecy.

Freedom of Information Act (or FOIA) requests are made by the public or the media for documents and other information usually not readily available to be produced to serve a greater good for the public. Things like health inspection reports to audits to items like police reports and federal subpoenas which Blagojevich refused to make public, according to the Chicago Tribune, are documents people are entitled to request under the act.

Last year, Illinois earned an “F” from the Better Government Association for its overall response and handling of FOIA requests. The state was not alone; 37 others received failing marks, as well.

While it may come at an odd time on the coat tails of Blagojevich corruption scandals and when Republicans say Madigan is being tailored for governor, the reasoning behind overhauling the act doesn’t matter—Illinois needs additional transparency in its government now more than ever.

Madigan, who is working with news organizations on the changes, must follow through with changes and not act as a talking head.  She and those collaborating with her on the law should seek to alter its language so it is easily understood by everyone, including the government. So often agencies do not follow through and often don’t pay fines which can run from $100 to $1,000. With the rewritten act, the language should be clear, specified and fines enforced if violated. Other states penalize violators with jail time or daily fines. Illinois should do the same to ensure the law is enforced.

The media, which will greatly benefit from being able to request and get information more efficiently, will be able to do its job, as well, by monitoring and checking local and state government to serve the public in offering its discoveries from what will hopefully be more transparency in documents and information. But, the public should see this as a win-win situation. They’re entitled to request and see public records, too.

With Obama wanting more transparency in federal government, now is an opportune time to take a cue from our president and do the same in Illinois.