Rep. Daniel Biss discusses Park District FOIA exemption

Rep. Biss online @DanielBiss - Photo from Twitter

The Illinois General Assembly passed and sent to the governor a bill adding a new exemption to the state’s FOIA law. The exemption would prevent the release of personal information of minors who are participants and registrants in park district and city programs.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Daniel Biss, a progressive Democrat and former math professor who hit the ground running since being sworn in, in January.

We had a chance to talk on Thursday about where the idea for the bill originated and what exactly it aimed to prevent.

On where the idea started:

“The idea came from the Park District. They were dealing with these requests. Basically what FOIA says is that anything associated with the public sector is public information, as it should be. If it deals with people’s tax money and the public sector, people should be able to know anything we do.”

“If you have a class of minors that is run by the Park Districts, then the class rosters and names and addresses are data produced by the public sector, unless someone says otherwise.

The Park District were actually getting these requests. The Glenview Park District was getting requests for class rosters, and we felt that it was really betraying the trust of the parents who were putting the kids in that class.”

Biss said he wasn’t sure exactly why people were seeking this information, but that could be obtained from Peter Murphy, President of the llinois Association of Park Districts.

“Should a child predator have access to the names and the addresses to girls in the 13 and under ballet class? That’s disgusting – and the answer is ‘No,'” Biss said.

“Why would someone need the names, address and personal information of kids…You might want to know if the district is serving people all across the community or people from an ethnically diverse nature…You can still FOIA demographic information and aggregate, but the thing you can’t get is the specific names and addresses. I can’t think of any reason why that would be a question of government transparency.”

Biss acknowledged the existing privacy exemption in Illinois’s FOIA law, but said this additional exemption to the law would help keep the public safe and help to get rid of extraneous and unnecessary FOIA requests clogging up the system.

“The point of FOIA is to keep track of how the public sector conducts itself. It needs to be accessible to the public, but if you write a law that is over-broad, then you create an opportunity for people to get information that isn’t really appropriate for them to have, and you clog up the FOIA system for people actually trying to learn how the government conducts itself.”

“This is the first time the Illinois Press Association has come out and supported a FOIA exemption. To clean out some of those irrelevant distractions is to make the law work better,” Biss said.

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