HB4794: Legislative Sloppiness At Its Best

As a member of the Illinois State Bar Association's Standing Committee on Government Lawyers, I'm occasionally asked to review proposed legislation and give my opinion in support or opposition. 

A few days ago, I was asked to review HB4794, an amendment to the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). This bill is an ode to sloppy legislation and a potentially wonderful means by which to invite even more litigation over OMA. It adds a 32nd exception to OMA, as follows:

"(c) Exceptions. A public body may hold closed meetings to consider the following subjects: *** (32) Negotiations of a public body when the discussion involves entering into contracts with a vendor."

Notably, the bill provides no definition for "negotiations," "involves," or "vendor." So, apparently, the public body can close its meeting and discuss whatever it wants, so long as someone, at some point, mentions something about entering into a contract with a vendor. The public body need not even be a party to the contract. Basically, the meeting would be exempt from the Act if someone says, at some point in the discussion, "My neighbor was thinking about ordering Jimmy Johns last night, but he didn't." 

By using the term "involves," the bill allows just a drop of the topic, "entering into contracts with a vendor," to render the entire discussion exempt from OMA. 

Assuming it would be a good idea to exempt a public body's contract negotiations with a vendor from OMA (a highly questionable proposition in and of itself), the better way to word the bill would be as follows:

"(c) Exceptions. A public body may hold closed meetings to consider the following subjects: *** (32) The public body's contract negotiations with a vendor*."

*The bill would also need to define "vendor," because Merriam-Webster defines "vendor" as "one who vends;" it defines "vends" as "to dispose of something by sale." So, without a statutory definition, a "vendor" would essentially be any person or business that delivers any good or service. 

Needless to say, I oppose this bill.