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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2 Bills Would Establish Additional Website Obligations

We've reported previously on the legislation passed last year (effective January 1st) that amended the Local Records Act to require certain units of local government to post an email address (or addresses) on their website that members of the public can use to contact their elected officials.  Two bills have already been introduced this year to establish additional website requirements.

House Bill 435 would amend the Local Records Act to require any unit of government serving 5,000 or more in population and any school district with an enrollment of 500 or more students to establish a website and post a significant amount of information and records on their website, including:

(1) contact information (phone numbers and email addresses) of all elected and appointed officials; 
(2) public records that the government is required to report to other agencies; 
(3) agendas and board packets for all regular meetings at least 48 hours before the meeting and 24 hours before any special or emergency meeting. Meeting minutes must be posted within 48 hours after their approval; 
(4) FOIA policy; 
(5) annual budget and appropriation ordinance; 
(6) building permit and zoning procedures; 
(7) budget, financial audit, and various other financial records; 
(8) compensation schedule for all employees; 
(9) list of all taxes and fees imposed by the government; 
(10) purchasing, bid, and contract policies; 
(11) all bids and contracts of $25,000 or more; 
(12) debt disclosure report; 
(13) public notices; and 
(14) a searchable monthly check register. 

Yes, the bill would actually require local governments to create their own website and post all of the above information and/or records.  Penalties include a court order that the government comply, the imposition of monetary penalties or other sanctions, and recovery of attorneys' fees for the citizen who prevails in a lawsuit against the government.  

This bill would preempt home-rule.  It also contains an "exempt mandate," meaning that the state will not reimburse local governments for their costs in complying with the law. Compliance costs could be quite extensive - and in some cases prohibitive - for units of local government that would be required to hire a consultant to design and establish a website and employ someone to keep the website current with the substantial amount of records and information that would have to be uploaded on a regular basis.

Senate Bill 26 would also amend the Local Records Act to require governments to post on their website all notices that are required by law to be published in the newspaper.  The language of the new bill is as follows:
(a-5) In addition to any requirement to publish in any newspaper notices, agendas, records, or other information or  material that is required to be published in a newspaper by law or court order including, but not limited to, the Open Meetings Act, the Illinois Municipal Budget Law, the Intergovernmental  Cooperation Act, the Counties Code, the Township Code, the Illinois Municipal Code, the Election Code, the School Code, the Airport Authorities Act, or the Civic Center Code, a unit of local government or school board that maintains a website shall also publish this information on its website.
There are a few problems with this bill.  First, it doesn't say how long the notices must be published on the website - would one day (like a newspaper publication) suffice?  Or, must the notice or record be posted on the website until the meeting is over?  Alternatively, since there is no time limit, must the record be posted on the website forever?  Second, the bill refers to newspaper notices and agendas required by the Open Meetings Act - however, the OMA has no requirement that notices or agendas be published in the newspaper.  Instead, the OMA requires public bodies to send a copy of certain notices and agendas to the news media (usually, those are sent to the reporter assigned to a particular government entity or who attends meetings).     

In my view, this bill needs some work before it moves forward.  

We will keep you posted on both bills.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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