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FOIA law on Rauner’s refusal to reveal reform legislation

May 15, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner insists the proposed reforms in his “Turnaround Agenda” for Illinois are written up in the form of legislation and ready to be considered. But he has refused to make the bills public, and Democrats in Springfield say negotiations are being hampered because they haven’t seen precisely what he is proposing.

The governor’s office has rejected a request for the bills from The Associated Press under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The administration says the documents are considered “preliminary,” though Rauner has repeatedly said in public that the legislation has been completed.

Key points:

— The FOIA law allows government agencies to withhold “preliminary” records “in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.” The exemption is meant to allow government officials to debate freely without fear that their initial ideas will become public. An email in which the writer gives an opinion or floats a trial balloon could be exempt.

— In denying the AP’s request, Rauner FOIA officer Donovan Borvan wrote, “As legislative working groups continue to meet and discuss priorities, the drafts are still deliberative in nature and thus are exempt from disclosure.”

— Legislation filed and considered in the General Assembly simply states a proposed policy, and doesn’t include opinions or the process used to decide on that policy.

— Even if a document is considered “preliminary,” the FOIA carves out another exception: a “record shall not be exempt when the record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body.”

The AP has appealed the decision to the attorney general’s public access counselor.


John O’Connor, AP Political Writer

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