New “open government” laws in SD, IL, but not in IA

As you may recall, Iowa legislaors tried but failed to enact any open government reform in 2009. 

According to (House Democratic Leader Kevin) McCarthy, he's heard more from the press than the public on this issue. "The press is probably the number one constituency for it. I, generally, to be very frank with you — in fact, I've never been lobbied by a citizen on the issue," McCarthy says, "but I have been lobbied by members of the media."

A new law goes into effect tomorrow in South Dakota that essentially says all state and local government documents are public records unless the government can prove they should be kept secret.

Last month, the Illinois legislature passed significant revisions to that state's Freedom of Information Act, as detailed in the analysis below from the Citizens Advocacy Center in Chicago.  (It should be noted that open government was a good issue for Governor Quinn and other Illinois politicians to embrace after the Blagojevich scandal.)

…This is a comprehensive rewrite of the current statute. Under this new (law), Illinois will be the only Midwest state surveyed by the Center to have a Public Access Counselor with enforcement powers. This means that when the public has problems accessing public records or public meetings, they can contact the Illinois Attorney General's office for assistance and the public body can no longer simply ignore the Public Access Counselor.

If a valid concern is presented, the Public Access Counselor now has the power to issue subpoenas, review closed session tape recordings, and issue binding opinions. If the public body refuses to comply with the opinion of the Public Access Counselor, the Public Access Counselor has the power to seek enforcement by the courts.

Additional provisions of the new (law) include:

  • A presumption of transparency. Public bodies that deny records have the burden of proving that the record is exempt by clear and convincing evidence.

  • Mandates that every public body have a designated Freedom of Information Act officer and that those who are responsible for processing requests must complete a training program facilitated by the Attorney General's office.

  • Shortens the time for public bodies to respond to request from 7 to 5 business days and the time allowed in an extension from 7 to 5 business  days.

  • Narrows and clarifies the personal privacy exemption by limiting and defining personal privacy. Additionally, per se privacy exemptions have been eliminated.

  • Requires heightened scrutiny when a public body denies information under the Privacy or Preliminary Draft Exemptions. Whenever a public body intends to deny access to a record by asserting the personal privacy exemption or the preliminary draft exemption, the public body must notify the Public Access Counselor who can review the assertion of the exemption and deem if it is proper.

  • Limits Copying Charges. Provides the first 50 pages for black and white, letter or legal sized copies are free and caps the charge for the  remaining black and white, letter/legal sized pages at 15 cents per page.

  • Mandates that a prevailing party in a lawsuit is entitled to reasonable attorney fees.

  • Imposes civil penalties of up to $5,000 for intentional violations.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.