FOIA Now Allows School Districts More Time and Fees for “Voluminous Requests”

By January 13, 2015 News No Comments

The legislature has amended the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by establishing a definition of a “voluminous request” and establishing a detailed procedure for responding to such a request. Although Governor Quinn vetoed the proposed amendments in June 2014, the legislature overrode the veto and the revised law became effective December 3, 2014.

Under the new provisions, a voluminous request is defined as a request that:1) includes more than five individual requests for more than five different categories of records or a combination of individual requests that total requests for more than five different categories of records in a period of 20 business days; or 2) requires the compilation of more than 500 letter or legal sized pages of records unless a single record exceeds 500 pages. The definition excludes requests made by news media and non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations if the principal purpose of the request is:1) to access and disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events; 2) for articles of opinion or features of interest to the public; or 3) for the purpose of academic, scientific, or public research or education.

A public body must respond to a voluminous request within five business days after receipt. The response must notify the requester that their request will be treated as voluminous, give the requester 10 business days to amend the request so that it will no longer be considered voluminous, and explain the remaining options and timelines set forth in the law.

If the request continues to be voluminous after amendment or the requester fails to respond, the public body, within five business days and an optional extension of 10 business days, must either:1) provide an estimate of the fees to be charged; 2) provide the requested records; 3) deny the request pursuant to an exemption; or 4) notify the requester that the request is unduly burdensome and extend an opportunity to reduce the request to manageable proportions. Requesters have the right to appeal to the Public Access Counselor if they believe the request was wrongfully classified as a voluminous request.

If a voluminous request is for electronic records, the law permits a public body to charge the requester between $20.00 and $100.00, depending on the megabytes of data required and whether the records are in PDF format. These fees may be charged even if the requester fails to accept or collect the records and, if unpaid, become a debt subject to collection.

Further, for commercial requests, in addition to existing limited fees for search and retrieval of records, the amendments allow a public body to impose fees for time spent examining records for necessary redactions.

If a public body imposes any of the above fees for electronic records or search, retrieval and review of designated records, it must provide the requester with an accounting of all fees, costs and personnel hours in connection therewith.

Finally, prior to this change in the law, if a requester asked for records that were posted online, a public body was nonetheless obligated under FOIA to provide hard copies. Pursuant to these amendments, however, a public body is not required to provide copies of records that are published on the public body’s website unless the requester does not have reasonable electronic access.

Freedom of Information Act requests continue to create issues for a school district’s FOIA Officer. Contact Heather Brickman, Steven Richart or Jeff Goelitz with your FOIA inquiries.

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