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Monday, January 19, 2015

Q&A About New Email Posting Requirement

I've posted a few times about the new law that took effect January 1st requiring units of local government and school districts to post on their websites a mechanism for members of the public to electronically communicate with their elected officials.  A government can meet this new requirement in a variety of ways, including posting a universal email address (such as villageboard@nameofmunicipality.com) or the individual email addresses of the elected officials. Alternatively, a government might use a "contact us" form to allow users to select elected officials as the recipient of the email.  Whatever method you use, information about that method must be easily available or searchable from the government's home page by use of a hyperlink.

I've had a number of questions about this new law so I put together a "FAQ" below.  Because the law is so new, there are no cases or opinions interpreting the requirement, so you should check with your local attorney to make sure you are complying with the new law.

1.   What is the deadline for compliance?

Government bodies subject to the new law must comply within 90 days of the effective date, or by April 1, 2015

2.  Are townships subject to the new law?

Yes.  The new law specifically applies to school districts and "units of local government."  Units of local government are defined in state law to include "counties, municipalities, townships, special districts, and units designated as units of local government by law."  That would also include park districts, library districts, and other special districts and local government units. The law does exempt those units of government that serve a population of 1,000,000 or more, however.

3.  We don't have a website - does the law still apply to us?

The law only applies to units of local government and school districts that have a website.  There is no requirement that you establish a website if you don't already have one.

4.  We don't have a website, but we do have a government Facebook page - do we need to post the information on that site?

No, the new law excludes social media and networking sites from the definition of "Internet website."
5.  Our elected officials do not have official government email addresses - they all use gmail or some other personal email service. Do we have to post their personal email addresses on the website?

The law does not mandate that you post individual email addresses of elected officials (official or personal) - one of the alternative methods of complying with the law would be to set up a single, uniform email address where members of the public can contact the elected officials.  For example, you could set up an email address called electedofficials@district.com (or some other variation) and post a hyperlink to the email address or a link to that information on the home page of your website.

6.  We already have a "Contact Us" form on our home page - will that work?

That would be an alternative mechanism to comply with the law if (1) the "contact us" form allows the user to select the governing board (i.e., "village board" or "school board") as a recipient of the electronic communication and (2) a hyperlink to the information or the form is located on the home page of the website.

7.  We already include our elected officials' emails on the "village board" page of our website - do we need to do anything else to comply?

You would need to add a hyperlink on the home page of your website that directs users to the village board page where they can find the emails.

8.  We are home rule - are we exempt?

No, the law contains a home-rule preemption, meaning that home rule governments are subject to the law.


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