The Chicago Genealogical Society Advocacy Committee has been working with legislators relating to excessive research related fees in Illinois coroner offices which impact researchers greatly.
Since 1979 Illinois has been taxing the dead. Counties charge fees for coroner reports. These documents contain verdicts and transcripts, and the fees to obtain copies of them are mandated by Illinois statute. The fees as they stand are excessive, ranging upward from $5.00 per page. For historians, researchers, genealogists doing primary research, or anyone who likes their public information more - not less – public, the fees run counter to the ideals of open records and free access to information.
This new House Bill 4210 (HB 4210) of the Illinois 101st General Assembly recently introduced by La Shawn Ford, represents working together with the coroners' association and their lobbyist Brian Duffy over the past year where we have found common ground. The new language of HB 4210 provides for a $15 flat rate for research documents over 20 years (modeled after the Vital Records Act) and gives the coroner the right to waive the fees.
Your help is needed because HB 4210 is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday Feb 20th. Illinois residents are needed to support this bill in the form of witness slips.
Your support as an Illinois resident is needed. HB 4210 is scheduled for a committee hearing this week on February 20th. Following is a link to the bill status and bill text as well as a link to the witness slips. We are asking everyone possible to file a witness slip in favor of HB 4210. Check as a Proponent and at the end of the witness slip, you can check "Record of Appearance Only." THIS MUST BE DONE BY FEBRUARY 20th
Additionally, please contact your state representative to support the HB 4210.
The research related coroner fees are relatively recent; the fee language was added to the law in 1979, instituting fees for copies in the coroner’s office. The legislative debates on SB 1157 1979 provide little insight as to why these fees were added. SB 1157 passed the Senate with one no vote and the House placed the bill on the consent calendar where it passed 127-1-27. What began at $2.00 per page, eventually with subsequent legislation, became a whopping $5.00 per page. This coroner fee structure became an exception to the Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act which provides that an agency can charge fees reasonably calculated to reimburse its actual cost for reproducing, that the first 50 pages of a public record have no fees charged, and that fees when charged not exceed 15 cents per page.
For example, in the course of researching a historic 1956 Chicago murder, a researcher became acquainted with the family of the victims. He learned that they had never received a copy of the coroner’s inquest records. After the family was given a daunting and unnecessary runaround from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office concerning the availability of the documents, they sought to obtain copies. Upon being told they would have to pay $1,200 for a copy of the inquest transcript concerning their own family members, they asked for an explanation. The staff indicated that there was nothing they could do and that the family should hold a fundraiser. Similar experiences abound. Another researcher requested a photocopy of an inquest transcript related to a 1918 murder. He received a reply stating that the record consisted of 161 pages and that the total charge would be $805, an amount not typically in the budget for the average researcher or family member.
The coroner transcript for the investigation of the sinking of the Eastland in 1915 is available at the Chicago Public Library and can be scanned at no cost, but the 157- page document would cost $785 at the current rate mandated by Illinois statute.
These are public records, not the private stash of a public office or office holder.
Too many government agencies and archives have long treated historians, genealogists and other researchers as if we were asking them for a favor when we ask to see their records — our records — rather than recognizing their responsibilities to the public under the law. Having excessive fees in place taxes the dead and is a deterrent to public access and open records. HB 4210 will address this problem and bring the fees to a reasonable level.