Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Citizen Discontent Open Records Exemptions

(Tuesday October 16, 2007) After the press conference sponsored by passopenrecords.org, held Monday October 15, 2007 at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg, PA, our news representatives took a turn asking questions of the legislative speakers supporting new Pennsylvania open records legislation.

One of the bills in the House of Representatives is sponsored by state Rep. Timothy Mahoney (Democrat-Fayette County-51st District) House Bill 443) who is asked about his brief statement during the conference in support of his bill.

Rep. Mahoney is asked point blank by a news reporter to explain his position that there is no need for more investigations.

What Mahoney said in response to the question: there is no need for more investigations... it's time for Pennsylvania to go forward and not backwards... there are plenty of black eyes... we don't need more black eyes... we need to focus on open records... property tax elimination... not referring to anything ongoing, but back in the past five or ten years... we need to go forward...

What was said during the press conference.

Senator Dominic Pileggi. "We have made remarkable progress.. enact a statute that states all government records remain open unless they fall under the category of the (exemptions)...

Sen. Jim Ferlo several controversial issues... original open records law passed in the 1950s is long overdue for change... no window-dressing... pass the strongest open records law in the country...

Rep. Tim Mahoney... this bill is not a reform bill... it is a bill of trust to put trust back into this beautiful building here where people trust (us) to take care of their 27 billion dollars a year, so people know where their money is being spent... we don't need more investigations... records covered ... from the time this bill passes... we need to start there... this is the first step...

Babette Josephs... what this state government has always assumed is that the docs the info generated by state government belongs to state government and that it's up to the people requesting information to prove it has a right to the information... we're going to turn that on its head in our legislation...

(Net the Truth Online Tuesday October 16, 2007)(from viewing Pennsylvania Cable Network broadcast)

Well, the news media failed us again. Really, if you are going to ask a legislator to explain his or her position, and he or she doesn't, you press further to get a decent answer. (press, that's one reason they're called The Press)

That didn't happen with the questioning of Rep. Timothy Mahoney. He wasn't asked why past "investigations" in Pennsylvania history SHOULD BE EXEMPTED from sunshine.

He wasn't pressed to answer why the legislation should only apply to records from the time of enactment of the bill, if that was his meaning.

What reason could there possibly be to suppress anything so long as there would not be a so-called "immediate" national or state security risk to divulge?

Representative Mahoney should have been questioned further by the same group of newspaper reporters and editors who support full open records. (barring security concerns)

The public does not want piece-meal open records in Pennsylvania. It appears that Rep. Mahoney won't refrain from the political rhetoric on the issue. Give them a bite of the bone, but not the whole bone. Who or what is he bent on protecting?

What an early Christmas gift should the Mahoney legislation be adopted filled with its current exemptions.

The news media did not ask Rep. Mahoney specifically about contents of this bill in regard to a string of exemptions contained in his legislation.

Seriously, here they had the passopenrecords.org (created by the PA Newspaper Association), and Rep. Mahoney, and all the time in the world before deadlines, and it was like in the past at these public events, whatever the legislator says, just let it go, maybe the public will forget there are still unanswered questions. (And questions we just didn't ask).

All government records shall be open, sounds great, getting all warm and fuzzy... but read on, unless EXCLUDED...

That's right, unless excluded, and take a look and really see what is excluded...

The Mahoney bill presents over 25 such exemptions.

Take a look at the long-laundry-list of exemptions in Rep. Mahoney's open records bill. Section 302 Access Generally (a) Enumerated Exemptions

Pay particular attention, folks. Enumerated Exemptions.

(24) Electronic mail...

provided that the electronic mail does not contain the discussion of the spending of public money or the duties and powers of the office, officeholder, or agency.

Say what? What is sad is Rep. Mahoney will not be held accountable by the media for his lack of an explanation. All the public will hear and read is how great this bill is, how it reverses the longstanding burden of seekers of the information having to prove a right to access.

Worse, if Mahoney's bill doesn't pass, (and it should not unless the exemptions disputed are removed) he'll still be supported and blame will be placed on legislators who "just don't want to see open records with teeth."

The Post-Gazette reports Beverly Schenck's comments:

"I don't want a bill that's simply there to make it look like they're doing something. I want some actual action," she said. "The more exceptions, the more opportunities there will be for [government officials] to deny access to information people should have."

Well guess what, that's what the Mahoney bill is - it looks like they are doing something, but if there are exemptions and material prior to the passage of the bill are exempted as well, then really what are they doing? Nothing.

There should be growing citizenry discontent pertaining to the open records "exemptions." That can't happen if there remains a press that's supposed to ask the questions on our behalf, failing.

The Newspaper Publishers Association and others are so bent on getting anything, anything opened they'll accept a watered-down version. The informed public should not.

Write PA state Rep. Timothy Mahoney. Tell him not to open the door just a bit, then close it right smack in our faces. Either do open records right, or don't do it at all at this time.


Write letters to the editor, or comment here.

(Net the Truth Online posted Tuesday October 16, 2007)


Pennsylvania pushes to open records
By Brad Bumsted
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
HARRISBURG -- A House committee on Wednesday likely will approve legislation intended to make state and local government records more open to taxpayers, the panel's chairwoman said.

The House State Government Committee will vote on legislation sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney, a Uniontown Democrat, to strengthen the state's Right to Know Law enacted in 1957.

"I aim to see the citizens of this state get the records they already own," said Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, who chairs the committee.

The Senate State Government Committee soon will vote on a separate bill by Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, according to Colleen Greer, an aide to Chairman Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin County.

...Lawmakers of both parties, including Pileggi and Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, called for action Monday at a Capitol news conference. They said the proposed law should put the burden on government to show why records should not be released. Currently, that burden rests with citizens requesting records.

"Let's pass the strongest and most viable open records law in the country," Ferlo said.

Lawmakers said they are working on the exemptions to records that would be publicly released, such as those containing trade secrets, Social Security numbers, credit reports and details of ongoing police investigations.

Advocates are concerned about a provision in Mahoney's bill that would limit release to future records, Wilson said.

Any records from the past would be covered by existing law, Mahoney said. "Why do we want to go backward when we should go forward?" he said.


House panel to vote on open records bill
By Kori Walter, For the Herald-Standard
Updated 10/16/2007 11:47:37 AM EDT
HARRISBURG - A state House panel plans to push ahead this week with a vote on an open records bill expanding public access to government records, House Democrat leaders said Monday.

But the public - and most lawmakers - will have to wait until at least today to see if the bill lives up to the months of hype or laden with loopholes.

Copies of the bill and the several amendments were still being printed late Monday.

Rep. Babette Josephs, a Philadelphia Democrat, said during a rally in support of strengthening the state's Open Records Law that the State Government Committee would vote on a measure to make it easier for residents to obtain records ranging from how much townships pay solicitors to how much lawmakers' spend on lunch.

"We will pursue legislation that will say, without a shadow of a doubt, that documents, information and data belong to the people," said Josephs, chairwoman of the committee.

Josephs said lawmakers would craft exemptions to the law that bar the public from obtaining personal information, such as Social Security numbers or trade secrets.

"I do not want to expose any government employees to the risks of identity theft," she said.

Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-South Union Twp., has proposed the most ambitious overhaul of the state's law governing open records in decades.

He did not know exactly how much information would still be off-limits to the public in the bill's final version.

Regardless, Mahoney said his main concern is giving taxpayers access to all documents involved in spending public funds.

"We have to open the records so a common Joe knows where their money is being spent," he said during the rally.

Two separate bills have been introduced in the state Senate to loosen the firm grip state and local governments have on information in Pennsylvania.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, said leadership in both chambers agrees that the burden of proving that a document is not a public record should be shifted to government officials.

Currently, the burden is on citizens requesting records to prove that the document they want is considered a public record...


Details delay open records legislation
Bucks County Courier Times
October 15, 2007 6:44 AM

HARRISBURG — Loosening the steel grip that state and local governments in Pennsylvania have on documents could take a little longer than some expected.

A state House panel vote may be delayed on a bill that would expand access to government documents ranging from lawmakers' expense accounts to Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's salary.

Good government advocates and lawmakers are still trying to agree on whether government officials' e-mail messages and records from the past should be available for public review.

Some disagreement remains over whether individuals' birth dates, which are currently available in court documents, should be excluded from all public documents and which state agency would oversee requests to review records...

...Rep. Tim Mahoney, a Fayette County Democrat, is the prime sponsor of a House bill that would require any document related to spending taxpayer money public.

Mahoney said he still believes a committee vote will occur this week, but acknowledged staffers are fine-tuning the legislation.

“I'm pretty sure that we are real close (to an agreement),” he said. “Who in their right mind would be against this bill, and think they are going to get elected next year?”

Mahoney said there's pretty much widespread support for putting the burden on government to prove that a document should not be public. Currently, citizens requesting documents must make the case that a document should be released.

But Mahoney said the broader definition of a public record should apply to only those documents generated after the law goes into effect, not past records.

“We don't need to open up other scandals,” Mahoney said. “We have enough investigations going on in this damn state. We don't have to have more.”


Bills aim to open public records
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Beverly Schenck has been waiting 41/2 years for an itemized accounting of attorney fees paid by Center Township.

She's been through Butler County Common Pleas Court and Commonwealth Court, which both ruled the township could withhold the documents under attorney-client privilege. Now she's awaiting a ruling from the state Supreme Court, which heard her case last month.

Invoices for the expenditure of public funds should be public, she said during a press conference yesterday in Harrisburg.

State Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Uniontown, thinks so, too.

That's why he is the prime sponsor of an open-records bill that is expected to come before the House State Government Committee tomorrow. A floor vote could occur by week's end and a Senate vote could soon follow.

"We are closer than ever to achieving an open-records bill that is both meaningful and imminent," said Jamie Blaine, editor of the blog passopenrecords.org.

The centerpiece of Mr. Mahoney's legislation would change the way government records are viewed in Pennsylvania. Currently, they are presumed to be closed to public inspection unless the requester proves otherwise.

Most other states and the federal Freedom of Information Act begin with the presumption that government records are public unless the agency that possesses them proves that disclosing them would cause harm.

Under Mr. Mahoney's bill, records would be presumed open unless they fall under a limited list of exceptions.

The bill faces wrangling whether those exceptions should include things such as public universities' payroll records, police officers' disciplinary records, recordings of 911 calls and casino-license applications...

...Mrs. Schenck is hoping for fast action so other residents don't have to go through the legal battles she is continuing to fight to get information about how public funds are spent.

"I've spent thousands of dollars to fight for this because it's the right thing to do, and I'm a paralegal. I'm sure the majority of people don't have the knowledge or the resources I have," she said after the press conference.

She hopes the Legislature passes strong, meaningful legislation that makes public records broadly accessible.

"I don't want a bill that's simply there to make it look like they're doing something. I want some actual action," she said. "The more exceptions, the more opportunities there will be for [government officials] to deny access to information people should have."



search results


Rep. Tim Mahoney


Kori Walter Bucks County Courier Times article

Open records vote expected this week
Bucks County Courier Times
October 16, 2007


Pass Open Records


Oct 16th, 2007 by dani_k

You can read the press release from yesterday’s event here.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Scranton Times-Tribune, the Carlisle Sentinel , the Bucks County Courier Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered the event. Whew! That’s just the news coverage - on the editorial page, the Allentown Morning Call wrote about open records reform along with the Uniontown Herald Standard and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And we also announced the winners of PNA’s Open Records Challenge: Alan Trexler a student at Lock Haven University, and Bob Spurdle, a resident of Wayne. Congratulations to both.

Remember, if you want to see open records reform, we need your help - contact your legislator today and urge them to vote for open records reform.

Beverly Schenck summed up what a lot of us are feeling when she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I don’t want a bill that’s simply there to make it look like they’re doing something. I want some actual action. The more exceptions, the more opportunities there will be for [government officials] to deny access to information people should have.”


A Fresh Breeze is Blowing
Oct 15th, 2007 by JamieB

On the morning of our press conference at the Capitol, there is a real hum of excitement about the possibility of meaningful open records legislation soon. . . .


PNA/PassOpenRecords.org Press Conference Monday
Oct 11th, 2007 by dani_k


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