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Efforts to ease open government laws in COVID-19 era face pushback

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

(The Center Square) – The Better Government Association wants to keep Illinois’ governments operating transparently at all levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonpartisan watchdog group in Illinois recently held a discussion via Zoom on the fight for access to public information.

The event was called “Open or Shut Case: COVID-19 and the Fight for Public Records.” The topic was how governments have tried to relax the requirements of the state’s Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act during the coronavirus emergency and the efforts to resists such moves.

Panelists also shared insights on a recent victory in a lawsuit to preserve police misconduct records, and how FOIA requests can be misunderstood.

“I think that the public tends to look at FOIA as sort of a media versus government thing and not to really understand that it really benefits them and what we do is on their behalf,” BGA Policy Director Marie Dillon said.

BGA general counsel Matt Topic said the lack of resources for media sources, especially in downstate Illinois, is prompting the general public to make FOIA requests.

“Little things like getting the expense reports and credit card bills from (a) downstate library board. No one is watching that,” he said. “Local papers are stretched thin and don’t always do that kind of journalism work so I am seeing a lot more just average people doing this.”

The Better Government Association began in 1923 when a group of lawyers, clergymen and businessmen created an organization to fight corruption in government.

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