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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bill Would Provide Relief for Voluminous FOIA Requests

UPDATE:  Governor Quinn vetoed this bill, but his veto was overridden by both houses, so this became law.  

There may be some good news for public bodies straining under the weight of voluminous FOIA requests.

House Bill 3796 would amend the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to create a definition of "voluminous request" that would provide a public body with some relief in responding to a "voluminous request."  The bill has passed both houses, and now heads to the Governor.

A voluminous request would be defined as follows:

"Voluminous request" means a request that: (i) includes more than 5 individual requests for more than 5 different categories of records or a combination of individual requests that total requests for more than 5 different categories of records in a period of 20 business days; or (ii) requires the compilation of more than 500 letter or legal-sized pages of public records unless a single requested record exceeds 500 pages. "Single requested record" may include, but is not limited to, one report, form, e-mail, letter, memorandum, book, map, microfilm, tape, or recording.
News media and non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations are exempt from the definition of "voluminous request" where their requests are to disseminate information to the public or are intended to be used for academic or scientific research.

A public body that receives a "voluminous request" would have 5 business days after receipt to notify the requester that his or her request is being treated as a "voluminous request".  The requester then has 10 business days to modify his or her request in a way that it would no longer be "voluminous."  If the requester doesn't respond or doesn't amend his or her request, then the public body can provide the requester with an estimate of the fees that will be charged to provide the documents, according to a new fee schedule for voluminous requests.  These new fees range from $20 for up to 2 MB of electronic data to $100 for more than 4 MB of electronic data if the document is not in PDF format, or from $20 for up to 80 MB of PDF data to $100 for more than 160 MB of PDF data.  The public body can also now charge up to $10/hour for examining records for necessary redactions, in addition to search and retrieval fees for responding to these type of requests. The new provisions also allow a public body additional time to respond to voluminous requests.

Another provision in the bill addresses records that a public body maintains online.  A new section 8.5 would provide that a public body is not required to copy and make available for public inspection a public record that is published on the public body's website unless the requester does not have reasonable electronic access.

The proposed legislation is lengthy, and somewhat complicated, but if enacted, is a step in the right direction for public bodies inundated with multi-part FOIA requests.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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