WORKING TO MAKE ILLINOIS GOVERNMENT MORE OPEN, TRANSPARENT, AND ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
Common Cause Illinois is continuing its efforts to improve Illinois government by advancing a transparency agenda in January 2022. The legislative, advocacy, and public education portfolio will center around reforms that make government more open and accessible, as well as more accountable to the people of Illinois.
It’s no secret that Illinois’s public information infrastructure is in dire need of updating. Simple tasks — such as the looking up of and contacting of state legislators, tracking a bill, or even registering to vote — are made inordinately more complex and frustrating due to the outdated nature of state websites, information systems, and user interfaces. CCIL is proposing a variety of accessibility and transparency reforms to truly bring Illinois’s public data into the 21st century.
Sample suggested reforms
Streaming and storage of meeting and session videos: Currently, hearings are streamed on the Illinois General Assembly website, a terribly outdated website that has a negative user interface. It takes several clicks to be able to even find videos of live streaming, and there is no publicly available repository of hearing videos.
CCIL is recommending a law requiring (1) that General Assembly proceedings are placed on the homepage and are simultaneously streamed on at least one other social media platform (2) a publicly accessible repository of General Assembly videos and transcripts, accessible to the public for free and without required registration.
Timing of notice and publishing of videos: As the redistricting hearings proved, even on matters of critical importance such as the drawing of maps, the General Assembly has fallen woefully short of giving the public adequate notice for public input. CCIL is recommending the General Assembly adopt clear and reasonable timelines and content requirements for public notice of such hearings, as well as requiring that the notice of such hearings not be posted solely on committee hearing portions of the General Assembly website.
Email or text alerts / weekly email: To get residents more involved in the policy making process, the General Assembly should establish either a mechanism by which Illinoisans can get an alert or text regarding what is happening in the General Assembly or a user-friendly weekly email with the week’s schedule and how to participate in hearings. The sign-up process should be as simple and secure as possible.
Expanding the ability for the public to comment: Currently, the only way for the public to express their comments on legislation is by filing a witness slip, a feature which is buried at least four to six clicks deep on the General Assembly’s website. This is an arduous process that essentially limits hearing participation to those who have previous knowledge of the witness slip process. CCIL is recommending revisions to the witness slip process so that such witness slips be reserved for those who actually want to submit extended or expert testimony before the committee. In conjunction, CCIL is recommending that the public have the ability to submit a comment on legislation via an email or a user-friendly webform. Such comments should be made part of the public record of the hearing.
Open Meetings Act & FOIA
Apart from the above reforms, CCIL will be advancing reforms related to OMA and FOIA laws, and specifically will look to legislation previously introduced as well as its work with experts to propose meaningful reforms to these important transparency laws.
CCIL will continue to advance its calls for mandatory disclosure of conflicts of interests, as well as other ethics reforms that were not included in the latest package of reforms adopted by the General Assembly.