Friday, December 12th, 2014

New Relief for Local Governments in Responding to FOIA Requests

The Illinois Legislature recently voted to override Governor Quinn’s veto of HB3796, which went into effect immediately (Dec. 3, 2014). This bill offers two different types of relief to units of local government in responding to Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests: (1) new voluminous request procedures; and (2) use of information posted on a local government website to respond to requests.

The primary benefit of HB3796 is intended to help units of local government deal with “voluminous requests.” A request is deemed to be a “voluminous request” if: (1) it includes more than 5 individual requests for more than 5 different categories of records; (2) it includes a combination of individual requests that total requests for more than 5 different categories of records within a period of 20 business days; or (3) it requires the compilation of more than 500 pages of public records, unless a single request (i.e., one report, e-mail, etc.) alone exceeds 500 pages. Certain requests made by the media or non-profit entities are exempt from the definition of a “voluminous request.”

Upon receipt of a FOIA request deemed to be a “voluminous request,” the new Section 3.6 of FOIA governs a unit of local government’s response. In summary, upon a determination that a request qualifies as a “voluminous request,” a unit of local government must do the following: (1) Respond within 5 business days after receipt, and (2) the response must give various notices to the requester.

If, after offering the opportunity to amend the request, the request remains a “voluminous request,” a local government’s response must either: (1) include an estimate of the fees to be charged, which may be required to be paid prior to copying the documents; (2) deny the request if an appropriate exemption applies; (3) notify the requester it is unduly burdensome and provide an opportunity for the requester to attempt to reduce the request; or (4) provide the records requested.

It is important to be aware of what a “voluminous request” is and how to specifically deal with one should it be received. As laid out above, there are numerous nuances and procedures that need to be filed in order to be afforded the additional protection and fees provided by this amended FOIA.

In addition to the new safeguards surrounding “voluminous requests,” the amendment provides that units of local government do not need to “copy a public record that is published on the public body’s website.” In the event a request is received for records that are available on a local government’s website, the local government is only required to notify the requester that the public record is available online and direct them to the website where the record can be located. Please be aware that there is an exception for requesters who are “unable to reasonably access the record online after being directed to the website.” In this case, the unit of local government may be obligated to copy the record if the requester re-submits their request and states their inability to reasonably access the record.

In all, HB3796 is intended to provide additional relief to units of local government in responding to FOIA requests. It is important that you and your FOIA officer be well aware of the new changes and specifically of the procedures that need to be followed in order to be afforded these new protections.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this in more detail, please call Timothy J. Clifton at (815) 459-2050.


Timothy J. Clifton

Author: Timothy J. Clifton