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tracking a bill, or even registering to vote — are made inordinately more complex and frustrating due to the outdated nature of state websites, information systems, and user interfaces.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 the creation of an Open Government Task Force to truly bring Illinois’s public date into the 21st century.

  • This task force, comprised of both members of the General Assembly as well as members of the public, would be tasked with researching and generating proposals to present to the General Assembly that would make Illinois state government more open, transparent, and accessible for all.
  • Reforms to be considered should include a modern Illinois portal for residents to truly understand the wealth of information and services available to them, universal voter registration, easy legislator lookup and contacting, recommendations and best practices for municipal and county websites, etc. • The task force timeline should be efficient –three to six months at a maximum — and its mandate should be broad.
  • Ideally, the task force would also include at least one member from the civic tech space who could guide the task force through the latest developments in open data and open government practices.

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of meeting and session videos: Currently, hearings are streamed on the Illinois General Assembly website, a terribly outdated website that has a negative user interface.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.

Proposed Open Government Task Force

Apart from its proposed Open Government Task Force, 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. Ethics Reform CCIL will continue 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.

Modernizing Our Elections

CCIL will also work with experts and local election officials to advance reforms to improve and safeguard our elections. Such reforms include revisiting the initializing requirement on ballots, clear signage requirements at polling places, and universal online registration on the main Illinois government website. Additional reforms for comprehensive reform include risk limiting audits, requiring better notification of polling place locations and changes, and creating a one-stop portal for voter access and information for the entire state of Illinois.

Next Campaign

Protecting Our Elections