Coroner Research Fee Reduction Bill Passes Illinois General Assembly

On May 8th this year, SB 686, the coroner fee reduction bill, passed both the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate and was sent to the Governor on June 6th.  Three days later on June 9th, Governor JB Pritzker sign the bill into law as PA 103-73, effective January 1 2024.

The newly signed legislation has two main provisions—1) provides that the fees for a copy of a transcript of testimony of a coroner’s inquest over 20 years old declaring the request is for research or genealogy purposes is a flat rate of $15.00; and 2) provides that, a coroner may waive, at his or her discretion, any coroner fees for those who are indigent or under other special circumstances.

The current version of this legislation is the fruition of the last 6 years.  In 2017, I sought to obtain a corner record for a death caused by an industrial accident in 1917.  I learned that the rate was $5 per page based on Illinois statute.  After some back and forth, I was provided with the statutory authority of an Illinois public act number, which I then found codified at 55 ILCS 5/4-7001 et. seq. as the authority behind the current law of $5 per page.

I researched the background and the legislative history and learned that this fee was added in 1979 at $2.00 per page with one no vote.  The sponsor indicated that the coroners asked for this change and that they should pass it.  Subsequent legislation increased the fee to $5 per page with no debate.  I had also researched other county fees in Illinois and saw that most fees on par with various county offices back into the 1800s.  That pattern changed in 1979.  Also, in talking with other researchers, I heard various stories of exorbitant fees being charged for such records at $1200, $785, $680, to name a few.

I wrote up a summary of the issue and its analysis and sent it to about four or five Illinois senators and representatives.  One representative responded and her staff had the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) draft language.  The problem then was to find a sponsor because every member of the General Assembly had their own priority bills.  Eventually, we found a sponsor, added the drafted language as an amendment to a shell bill, and scheduled a hearing.  As it was time for witness slips to be added, a great number of Illinois coroners filed in opposition to the bill.  I asked the sponsor to hold the bill.

I reached out to the Illinois coroners’ association to learn of their position and the reason for the opposition and learned that LRB went too far in capping all fees at $10.  This loss of income affected their operation budgets, which is not the goal of access to research documents.  In the summer of 2019, I met with the association’s legislative committee and we exchanged stories and positions.  They then wrote the core language which passed this year, which is modelled after the Illinois Vital Records Act.

In 2020, the new bill was introduced which also had a provision for the coroners to increase cremation permit fees.  That bill passed out of committee on February 2020 by a vote of 13-1.  The one no vote was because of the cremation permit increase.  The bill was ready to move to the floor, but then COVID hit.  As we all know, institutions shut down, including the General Assembly and thus, COVID killed the bill

This year, we have our current bill SB 686, which is two amendments onto a shell bill.  The effective date of the bill is January 1, 2024 and it is not retroactive.  We added these provisions to allay any unfounded fears.  The bill also exempts counties of 3,000,000 because we will approach Cook County on a separate fee schedule, similar to that of the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Scott G. Burgh is a retired law library director in Chicago, longtime member of CALL, and lifetime member of AALL.