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Monday, February 13, 2017

A Panoply of OMA Bills

There are just so many bills being introduced in the Illinois General Assembly that it is really hard to keep up! Quite a few of these would amend the Open Meetings Act, so I thought I would consolidate some of these OMA bills into one blog post. Stay tuned - I'm sure we will see many more before this session ends. Of course, it's anyone's guess as to how many of these (if any) actually make their way to the Governor.

1.  Website Postings.

Pretty much every legislative session in recent years, bills have been introduced to require local governments to post a significant number of public records on their websites. Some of these bills even require a public body to create a website if they don't already have one.  Here are a couple of these bills:  House Bill 290, House Bill 442.

2.  Addressing Public Officials

As you know, the OMA was amended a few years ago to add a section 2.06(g) requiring public bodies to provide an opportunity for public comment. House Bill 3626 would go a step further and require public bodies to allow individuals at least one opportunity to speak at each open meeting and prohibit a public body from adopting a rule that would limit a person to speaking no more than once in a given number of days. The bill would also clarify that individuals cannot be required to do anything more than state his or her name prior to addressing the public body.

House Bill 3326 also proposes to amend the OMA regarding a person's right to comment. This bill would allow individuals to not only address public officials, but also to ask questions of the public officials at the meeting. The public body would be required to provide answers to these questions within 45 days of the meeting.

3.  Attorney Discussions in Closed Session

Senate Bill 1227 would authorize a public body to go into closed session at a meeting to discuss certain matters with an attorney or auditor representing the public body. The language is similar to a provision contained in the Freedom of Information Act that exempts from public release any communications between a public body and its attorney or auditor if those communications would not be subject to discovery in litigation. 

4.  Penalties

House Bill 3326 (same bill mentioned above) also contains a provision that would require a court to impose a civil penalty between $2,500 and $5,000 for willful and intentional violations of the OMA, and make it mandatory for the court to award attorneys' fees for any prevailing party. 

5.  Posting Public Officials Email Addresses

Although House Bill 2944 doesn't amend the OMA, it relates to language already contained in that Act. If passed, HB 2944 would amend the Local Records Act to require local governments to post on their websites a mechanism for members of the public to email their elected officials. The bill also requires the public body to provide hyperlinks to the information on the website's home page.  

As readers of this blog already know, the OMA was amended in 2014 to include this same requirement, so this bill doesn't really offer anything new. (you can read about the 2014 law here).

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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