Transparency bill passes Illinois House committee

By Mike Billy

A bill that would increase transparency for some Illinois municipalities and school districts has passed its first hurdle on the way to potentially becoming law.

The bill, which passed a House committee on Thursday, would require units of local government and school districts with a budget of $1 million or more to maintain a website where they would post information regarding their annual budget, employee compensation and other financial matters.

The legislation would also create a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request exemption for any information that is available on the website.

Peter Breen, a village trustee for Lombard who submitted written testimony in favor of the bill, said the FOIA exemption would be a cost saver for many municipalities.

“When you put regularly requested information online and it’s exempted from Freedom of Information Act requests you will save money by reducing staff time required to answer those FOIA requests,” he said.

While there was no opposition at the committee meeting, state Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, who voted in favor of sending the bill to the House, asked what the cost to municipalities and school districts would be for creating and maintaining a website.

Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who sponsored the bill, argued that setting up the website would be relatively inexpensive.

“It’s very easy to set up a website these days and a lot of them cost almost nothing to maintain,” she said at the committee meeting.

Breen agreed.

“The fight against transparency is not about cost or difficulty,” he said. “It’s about willingness to be accountable to the people.”

Increased accountability from local governments is important to Breen.

“At this time where the public is less confident in government than ever before, we as government officials need to be more accountable,” he said. “Modern technology allows us to put government documents online and we should use these technologies to bring the government closer to the people and increase our accountability to the people.”

Breen also said he believes that those who might oppose the bill don’t want to give the public access to more information on government finances.

“They don’t want people to know how the money is spent or how much a particular person is being paid,” he said. “That attitude was never right, but now when we have so much corruption and waste we need transparency to hold the government accountable.“

The bill passed the committee 5-0 and will move to the House for a vote.