Tuesday, April 03, 2007

PA Capitol: DeWeese Co-Sponsor Freshman Open Records Bill

Looks like everybody is just getting along so well in Harrisburg...

Note: there's more than one bill

Note: there's still not going to be access to fill-in-the-blankety-blank

Note: history has a way of repeating itself

Note: whatever bill finally passes everybody will claim as they did in 2002

Note: Office so and such - wonder how many party patronage positions will open up

Note: everybody clap if you believe they'll let us see everything so easily

Press Release: DeWeese co-sponsoring open records bill

HARRISBURG, April 3 -- House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese is co-sponsoring legislation designed to provide more public access to government documents.

“It’s time that we revisit Pennsylvania’s open records law so that the public has easier access to state information. Part of my job as the House majority leader is to garner bipartisan support for legislation that our chamber chooses to move forward. To that end, I already have asked senior members of the House Democratic Caucus and senior staffers in my office to work with Representative Mahoney on refining his proposal,” said DeWeese, D-Greene/Fayette/Washington.

The measure (H.B. 443) was introduced in February by freshman Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fayette.

“As a first-term member, it’s exciting to have Majority Leader DeWeese support my legislation. With his influence, we are most certain to see a full discussion on this issue during the coming weeks,” Mahoney said.

DeWeese added: “At some point in the next several months, and before the House recesses after passing the state budget, I plan to set aside an entire day for the House Democratic Caucus to discuss this measure and other competing open records proposals. This will be done in an effort to garner consensus on this issue.”

The open records legislation is the latest reform effort by DeWeese this session. Last month, he and his House colleagues approved more than 30 changes to the House’s internal operating rules, including disallowing substantial amendments in the Rules Committee, prohibiting late-night session after 11 p.m., making all expense reports available electronically by request, and several others.

In addition, DeWeese instructed House Democratic Caucus staff to provide LIVE streaming video coverage of House session via the Internet at www.pahouse.com as well as all House Roll Call votes after session concludes each day.

EDITOR’S NOTE: DeWeese’s name has been added as a co-sponsor to the legislation; however, his name will not appear on the official bill listing until the legislation is changed and a new printer’s number is issued...



Hot off the presses



The (Uniontown) Herald-Standard, Dec. 19, 2006

Mahoney drafts open records reform bill
By Alison Hawkes
Of the Herald-Standard

Fayette County's representative-elect Tim Mahoney has drafted a bill requiring state government, including the long-exempt Legislature, to open its records to public inspection within 10 business days of a request.

The language, which he intends to introduce as a bill in the first week of the new session in January, has several elements that would radically change the way Harrisburg handles public records requests.

According to a draft of Mahoney's bill, the public would have a presumed right to internal government documents and the government agency would have to prove why a record should remain secret.

That turns the tables on existing law, in which the presumption is on citizens to prove a record should be made public.

Also, the draft bill would establish an "Office of Access to Public Records" where citizens could appeal a government agency's denial of a public records request.

The independent administrative agency, whose executive director would be appointed by the governor, would review and rule on the appeals. Afterward, either aggrieved party could take the issue to court. Currently, the only avenue for citizens to complain about a denied request is a lawsuit.

Mahoney, a Democrat, said his bill, which he is sending out for co-sponsorship to the entire House Dec. 20, has already generated interest.

"I think I'm going to get a good reception," he said. "I have had calls from veteran legislators and freshman wanting to know when it will be done. There are people wanting to sign onto it."

Mahoney said he based the bill off Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio open records laws. Pennsylvania, which is known to have one of the weaker open records laws in the nation, missed out on the chance for meaningful reform in the 2002 update to the 50-year old law, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Common Cause.

The Legislature tinkered with administrative issues, such as a 10-day timeframe for government agencies to respond as well as copy fees, without taking on the real issue of access, he said...


Mahoney's bill carves out a number of public records exemptions: the part of a record listing Social Security numbers and other personal information or medical histories, records that if disclosed would endanger public safety (except security policies), records pertaining to strategy and negotiations in a legal or collective bargaining dispute, corporate trade secrets, and records that would reveal a governor's policies or courses of action before they are made public.

The bill also explicitly states that a requester cannot be denied access due to their intended use, although it does provide limitations for commercial uses of public records with the exception of media.

Agencies must respond to a written request within 10 business days, unless under specified circumstances, or the request is presumed to be denied. Agencies violating the law could be subject to as much as $1,000 in civil penalty by the court.

Included are state-aided colleges and universities, authorities and inter-governmental agencies, and any organization or board that derives at least 25 percent of its fund from public money. Mahoney said he plans to have the Office of Access to Public Records also fulfill all records requests for state government agencies, although that provision has not yet made it into the draft bill he provided Dec. 18.

The bill also expands the current definition of public record beyond financial transactions and meeting minutes to include "all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, database, data or other material .... made or received in connection with or relating to the work of an agency, except those documents exempt or prohibited from disclosure under state or federal law."

Mahoney said he hopes his bill prompts agencies to place more government records on the Internet and in other electronic formats, giving the public a chance to receive documents without coming to Harrisburg...



Dems to rally against lawmaker's 'treason'
Reading state House member breaks party ranks on speaker
Monday, January 01, 2007
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State Democrats, still hung over from Republican maneuvering that may continue Rep. John Perzel's hold on the House speaker's chair, will hold rallies today in Reading and tomorrow in Harrisburg to highlight what they're calling the "political treason" of one of their own...

Tim Mahoney, the newly elected Democratic representative from Uniontown, Fayette County, sent a letter to the Reading Democrat urging him to reconsider. He admitted that he voted against Mr. Deweese in the party's caucus for leadership positions, but said the state will benefit from new Democratic leadership in the House, including in the speaker's chair.

"The Republicans have been in control of the House for 12 years, and the voters of Pennsylvania have voiced their opinion. It's time for a change," Mr. Mahoney said. "There's no reform coming down the pike from the Republicans and we really need reform of the open records law and taxes. I think the Democratic leadership can deliver on that and I am going to be pushing for them to do that."

Mr. Mahoney said that as a result of concerns expressed in the party's caucus, five of eight House leadership positions have been changed and Mr. DeWeese, who won a close re-election campaign, recognizes a need to change, too. Mr. DeWeese held the House speaker's post in 1993-94.

"Mr. Caltagirone is just considering his personal grudge by voting for Mr. Perzel and not everyone else in the Democratic Party that he will affect," Mr. Mahoney said. "Hopefully, he'll reconsider."



Mahoney open records



2002 revision open records in PA touted

Governor signs bill revamping Pennsylvania's open-records law
By The Associated Press,
freedomforum.org staff
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Mark S. Schweiker signed into law a bill intended to improve the public's access to state and local government records a day after the measure won final approval of the state House of Representatives.

"This legislation makes one thing perfectly clear: Every Pennsylvanian has a right to monitor the public officials they elect to serve the public interest," Schweiker said.

The measure approved June 28 and signed into law the next day overhauls Pennsylvania's 44-year-old public-records law by setting deadlines for agencies to respond to requests for records, requiring government offices to provide reasons for denying access in writing, and imposing fines on individuals and agencies that violate the law. It passed 199-1.

"Pennsylvania's open-records law is going to have greater sunshine on our government than we've had before," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. John A. Maher.

Open-records advocates consider Pennsylvania's current Right to Know Law one of the weakest. It assumes that a government record can be kept from public view unless specifically designated by law as open for inspection...


PA Newpaper Assoc.

Open records reform -- Pa. in a crisis of access
PNA members may use this editorial freely for reprint in their own publications.
By Teri Henning, General Counsel
Pennsylvania Newspaper Association

It is well understood that Pennsylvania has one of the worst open records laws in the country. In state-by-state surveys of open records laws, Pennsylvania generally falls within the bottom two or three. What that means for Pennsylvania residents is that we are often unable to monitor the work of our local and state governments or to hold them accountable for their decisions. And it seems to get harder every day.

Laws continue to be passed that prevent access to information, as with the recent slots law -- which exempts much applicant information from disclosure and allows the applicants themselves to designate documents as "confidential."

Recent court decisions have further limited access, as the Pennsylvania appellate courts have ruled that an agency can refuse access to almost all of the information on public officials' cell phone bills and on legal invoices submitted to agencies. In 2001, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a document that supported the payment of $145 million from public funds to settle a lawsuit was not a public record. The Courts have also ruled that the public has no right to a draft contract or proposal until the contract or proposal is finalized -- which is obviously too late for the public to comment.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law -- our state's open records act -- was amended to improve the procedural aspects of records requests...



Bill Status Report
04-03-2007 - 17:37:32

HB 443 Mahoney
Act requiring certain records of the State & its political subdivisions, authorities & agencies & other public bodies to be open for examination, inspection., etc., establishing the Office of Access to Public Records, etc., & making a repeal.
Position: Amend-Support
Remarks: Press conference announcement 2/07 but not submitted for introduction or printed befor return of House 3/12/07; available draft tracks PNA "Brighter PA" with problematic additional language.
Printer Number(s): P0813
Bill History: 02-15-07 H Filed
02-21-07 H Press Conference held
03-13-07 H Introduced and referred to committee on House State Government


More than one bill on the table for consideration

In Harrisburg, 'Open Records' Reforms Underway
by KYW's Tony Romeo

The majority leader of the Pennsylvania state senate has introduced his proposal to strengthen Pennsylvania’s "open records" law.

The bill introduced by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester and Delaware counties) would add the state judiciary’s financial records, state-related universities, and community colleges to the list of things covered by the Open Records law. It would also clarify that the state-run student-loan agency, PHEAA, is covered.

The bill, if passed, would shorten the time period state agencies have to respond to right-to-know requests and ease the appeals process.

Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson says an overhaul of the law is overdue:


Interesting brief about coroner's reports

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