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Prairie State Wire

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

House backs greater transparency in meeting postings, rejects measure aimed at school district statements

State Government

By Angela Underwood | Apr 30, 2018

Springfield il

Open and transparent government was a priority for Rep. Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville) and Rep. Dave Severin (R-Benton) during House debate April 20.

HB4583, sponsored by Halbrook, expands the protections of the open meetings act and mandates requiring that a public body post meeting notices on its website as well as in newspapers. The bill also allows courts to assess attorney fees incurred over Open Meetings Act (OMA) and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.

“It is a bill that gives everyday citizens a way to hold their elected officials accountable,” Halbrook said during floor debate.

Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley) noted opposition to the legislation by local governments and asked if the bill moved out of the House would Halbrook work for resolution.

“This might open up a well of some people filing lawsuits, and it would be an opportunity for a lot of lawyers to make a lot of money,” Pritchard said.

Rep. Steven Andersson (R-Geneva) questioned the 48-hour notice requirement that could be thwarted if a website went down and Halbrook deleting bill language that addressed the matter. 

“I think there is redundancy,” Halbrook said.

Andersson informed Halbrook there must always remain a hard copy notice of a meeting posting in city hall regardless of any website requirements.

“Removing that is really detrimental to the overall function of our local communities and how they comply with OMA,” Andersson said.

The bill is solid and deserved a yes vote, Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) said.

“We need this change to clarify folks follow the Open Meetings Act,” Breen said. “It is one of the few protections people have that their government will remain open and transparent and will do things above board.”

After HB4583 passed on a 108-1 vote, debate shifted to HB4232, sponsored by Severin, which requires that school boards post the district’s entire annual statement of affairs on a website rather than publishing it its entirety in a newspaper and still mandates it be posted in the main administrative office.

Rep. Dave McSweeney said HB4232 would make it difficult for senior citizens to follow the information and strongly urged a no vote.

Breen said Severin’s bill was simply saving money by not mandating the long statement be published in a newspaper but  be posted in full on a website.

Rep. Chad Hays (R-Danville) said the chamber often grapples with new technology and implementing policy and there comes a time when lawmakers must move forward with the 21st century. 

Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) called the bill a win-win-win all across the board. “We have transparency that can be reached from anywhere with a digital device, as well as a physical place to go and read it for yourself and it saves money,” Wheeler said.  

Rep. Nick Sauer (R-Lake Barrington) and Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) also rose in support of the bill, noting it was another open government measure that helps save money.

However, HB4232 was rejected by the House in 65-29 vote.

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