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Ill. legislature overrides governor's veto of FOIA exemption

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  1. Freedom of Information
Performance evaluations of Illinois state employees are now exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act after the Illinois Senate…

Performance evaluations of Illinois state employees are now exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act after the Illinois Senate Wednesday followed the House's lead in voting to override the governor's veto of House Bill 5154, which originally passed both houses last spring.

Last summer, Gov. Pat Quinn issued an amendatory veto on the bill, which originally exempted the performance evaluations of all public employees. The veto eliminated all of the exemptions except those for law enforcement employees.

The Illinois Press Association fought the initial law and then asked for the veto, said Josh Sharp, the association's director of government relations. He added that the veto wasn't perfect, but it made the law much narrower. The records, generally used for context to stories about raises or promotions within government, will probably never be open in Illinois again, Sharp said.

"Once records are exempted, it's very tough to get them back," he said.

The veto overrides passed overwhelmingly in both houses, 77-36 in the House and 48-3 in the Senate. Sharp pointed to campaign contributions as one reason for the overrides. "The public employee unions made huge midterm contributions," he said.

At the time of the amendatory veto in July, the governor said he was "committed to government that is ethical, transparent, and accessible to the citizens of Illinois."

In response to the override, which takes effect immediately, Quinn released a statement saying he "stands by the original intent behind his actions" and that the veto "would have promoted transparency and access to critical information, as well as protect public safety and maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system."

The Illinois Press Association remains optimistic about the Freedom of Information Act reforms that the state passed in 2009, even if the gains have been limited in recent months by bills like HB 5154. There are still many good reforms intact, Sharp said.