Name: Erika Harold
Town of residence: Urbana
Office sought: Illinois Attorney General
1. Attorney General Lisa Madigan created a public access counselor unit of the office to help people obtain public documents and access public meetings. Will the public access counselor continue to operate under your administration? Do you foresee changes to the system?
I will advocate for the allocation of additional resources to the Office of Public Access Counselor to enhance its ability to more timely secure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act, statutes that are essential to achieving transparency and accountability in government. Furthermore, to the extent such data is not currently being collected and reported, I will request that each public body that is covered by FOIA and the OMA quantify and report the amount of staff time and resources that is dedicated to responding to requests. When enacting FOIA, the General Assembly expressly recognized that the Act “imposes fiscal obligations on public bodies to provide adequate staff and equipment to comply with its requirements.” Accordingly, when assessing issues of burden, making recommendations regarding resource allocation, and developing best practices for public bodies, it is important for the Public Access Counselor and Attorney General to have quantifiable data from which to draw.
2. Are there flaws in the state's Freedom of Information Act and/or Open Meetings Act that you would make it a priority to address?
My top priority with respect to Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is ensuring that the Public Access Counselor’s office has sufficient personnel and resources to effectuate its current mandate and prevent backlogs. While I am not opposed to broadening FOIA’s reach at some point, the greatest need is additional resources to ensure that the PAC can issue timely opinions and fulfill its current responsibilities with respect to the entities already subject to FOIA.
3. How will your office go after corruption in Illinois?
I will utilize the full measure of the Office’s current statutory authority to investigate allegations of public corruption. Furthermore, I will advocate for the expansion of the Office’s investigative tools, such as subpoena and grand jury powers, to enhance the Office’s ability to investigate allegations of public corruption. I also will advocate for expanded ethics rules to preclude conflicts of interest in the administration of public business. For example, in the same manner that legislators are restricted from representing individuals before the Workers’ Compensation Commission, legislators also should be restricted from representing individuals and entities in property tax appeals. Additionally, I will try to ensure that the Office of Public Access Counselor — which is tasked with providing advice regarding the interpretation and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act — has sufficient resources and personnel. This would help empower citizens, members of the media, and watchdog groups to play their respective roles in monitoring governmental activities and making public officials more accountable to the public they are sworn to serve. Finally, I will use the Office’s bully pulpit to highlight the real costs government corruption imposes upon Illinoisans and advocate for a government that serves the people’s interests — not partisan or special interests.
4. What reforms, if any, do believe are needed in the state’s criminal justice system?
For the past eleven years, I have served on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to inmates and their families. In that capacity, I have done prison ministry, advocated for bipartisan criminal justice reform measures, raised awareness of the unique challenges facing children of incarcerated parents, and made visits to prisons throughout the country to help assess vocational and educational programming opportunities for inmates. Prison Fellowship recently launched an innovative Warden’s Exchange program, instituted national Second Chance Month to highlight the need for restorative opportunities for those with a criminal record, and launched reentry initiatives throughout the country.
Accordingly, I support the expansion of problem-solving courts (including drug courts and mental health courts), the streamlining and enhancement of reentry services, and greater access to expungement services. These reforms would promote human dignity; reduce recidivism rates, thereby keeping communities safer; and make better use of tax dollars, which are currently being squandered on a broken system and failed policies.
5. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform’s 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey ranked Illinois as among the worst states in the country. How would you work to change this as attorney general?
Our state has an overly litigious legal environment, which is one of the many cost-drivers Illinois businesses, large and small, face every day. One way to change this is through reform of Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation system.
Instead of being a balanced system in which injured workers are timely compensated and businesses experience the efficiencies of avoiding protracted and expensive litigation, Illinois’ system is inefficient, costly, and susceptible to fraud and abuse. Illinois’ broken system also places Illinois at a competitive disadvantage in relation to the more cost-effective systems of neighboring states, thereby hindering job creation and economic activity in Illinois. As such, I will advocate that the General Assembly adopt the following reforms: (i) the requirement that employees provide their employers with verified written notice of any workplace accident, and whenever physically possible, written details regarding such accident; (ii) clarification of the compensability guidelines to ensure that coverage is limited to those accidents or injuries that arise out of and in the course of performing job duties; and (iii) a refining of the causation standard to ensure that coverage is limited to those cases where the work injury was a primary or significant cause of the employee’s condition. These reforms will help ensure that legitimate claims are prioritized in the processing and compensation process and Illinois’ system begins operating in a more balanced, efficient and equitable manner.
6. Should marijuana be legalized for recreational use in Illinois? If so, how? If not, why not?
Marijuana should be legalized for recreational adult use, and relevant stakeholders should begin the process of methodically analyzing and negotiating appropriate safeguards and regulatory frameworks. This process should be approached with particular attention paid to protecting minors, providing sufficient mental health and substance abuse services, existing federal law and directives, and providing for proper testing protocol and equipment in marijuana-related automobile accidents. If approached in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, legalization should enable law enforcement officials to redirect their time and resources towards addressing more critical issues (such as the opioid epidemic), expand Illinois’ tax base, and decrease the number of people serving sentences for non-violent, marijuana-related offenses.
7. How will your office fight pollution in Illinois?
Protecting the environment is one of the Attorney General’s key responsibilities, and state and federal statutes empower the Illinois Attorney General to take legal action against those who violate environmental laws. I will fully enforce those statutes to protect the health of Illinoisans and ensure that polluters pay for their actions and do not impose those costs and externalities on taxpayers. Additionally, the Attorney General participates in the Environmental Crimes Investigators Network to work with and train local law enforcement officials to properly identify and investigate polluters. I will continue the Office’s collaboration with this Network and similar stakeholders as we seek to protect and safeguard Illinois’ environment.
8. What are your priorities for consumer protection?
The Attorney General should be proactive in using the Office’s statutory authority—whether under state or federal law—to protect consumers from fraud and abuse. This should be done by initiating legal action in court or reaching legal settlements outside of court that would protect consumers. To the extent specific consumer protection issues encompass several states, the Attorney General should not hesitate to join multi-state legal actions, provided that any agreement reached provide Illinoisans with a proportional share of the settlement funds obtained. Moreover, the Attorney General should utilize the Office’s public platform to highlight issues of which consumers should be aware, such as identify theft, financial scams and predatory commercial practices.
9. What would be your approach to immigration enforcement and public awareness?
While enforcement of immigration laws largely is a federal issue and outside of the Illinois Attorney General’s jurisdiction, Illinois law empowers the Illinois Attorney General to establish an Immigration Assistance Program to “assess the needs of the State's immigrant community with regard to access to government and other services” and to “provide education and outreach services to the immigrant community of the State, subject to funding availability.” In accordance with those goals, I would pursue education efforts to help ensure that those within Illinois’ immigrant community are apprised of their civil rights and alerted to relevant consumer protection and legal access issues.
I believe that the iteration of the TRUST Act that ultimately was enacted strikes the appropriate balance between maintaining law enforcement’s ability to provide for the public’s safety while respecting and upholding Constitutional protections and safeguards.
10. How will your office work to protect senior citizens?
In recognition of the reality that senior citizens often are the targets of consumer fraud and identity theft scams, I would use the Office’s visibility and outreach networks to highlight commonly utilized scams and ways of protecting sensitive personal and financial data. Moreover, I would encourage individuals to utilize the Attorney General’s Senior Citizens Consumer Fraud Hotline to seek information regarding potential scams that may be occurring in various communities. Furthermore, I would use the Office’s statutory authority to take legal action against those who target senior citizens, whether it is through initiating civil actions against perpetrators or assisting states’ attorneys with multi-county prosecutions.