Will a New Law Really Make Illinois’ FOIA Stronger? Journalists There Aren’t So Sure

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This summer, the Illinois legislature stiffened the penalties that can be imposed on public bodies that refuse to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Act. HB 4715, part of a two-bill package known as “Molly’s Law,” allows courts to fine agencies up to $1,000 for every day that they delay in turning over documents after a court ruling. The penalty would be in addition to existing fines, which range from $2,500 to $5,000.

The law, passed in response to a family’s fight for documents related to their daughter’s death, was touted by politicians as strengthening the state’s FOIA laws. Certainly stiffer penalties would seem to do that by sending the message to public bodies that not complying with FOIA could be costly. And the new law also establishes a presumption that a public body is wilfully violating the law if it ignores a binding opinion from the state’s attorney general to release documents.

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