A new law intended to increase public access to state records and information has received widespread support from the public, the media and good government groups.

On August 17, the Governor approved legislation (SB 189/PA 96-0542) that makes substantial changes to Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The state’s FOIA laws have been criticized for lacking the teeth to force government to comply with FOIA requests. The new law will enact strict rules, reduce the time deadline for government entities to respond to FOIA requests, drastically scale back possible FOIA exemptions, and penalize governments with fines if they are found to have intentionally violated the law.

Previously, government officials had up to seven working days, with a seven-day extension, to respond to the request. However, investigations conducted by the media and a government watchdog group found that in many instances, state government failed or refused to comply with FOIA inquiries. Now the state has five working days, with a possible five-day extension, to respond. Ignoring FOIA requests could lead to a fine ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.

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