Saturday, October 20, 2007

Newspaper suppresses House Bill Corruption Protection Act

The following Herald-Standard article at least details that the open records bill originally submitted by PA state Rep. Tim Mahoney and amended in the State Government Committee Wednesday would indeed become the most restrictive law in the nation in opening up electronic mail to public scrutiny.

But why still no mention of reform media darling Tim Potts public criticism of the legislation, tagging it the "Corruption Protection Act?"

Potts tagged the Mahoney Bill the "Corruption Protection Act" for a variety of reasons, not just the State Government Committee's revision to the section in the original bill pertaining to electronic mail.

Why the silence from Herald-Standard editorial page editor, Paul Sunyak? Where is the criticism of the bill from the standpoint of applying the legislation only to those records already open, and those after the bill is in effect? Why no outcry that past public records will BE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC?

Update: stand corrected. While not as forceful as we'd have liked, Sunyak took Mahoney to task at the end of an editorial

Action needed on open records
Paul Sunyak, Herald-Standard editorial page editor
...It is now time to fish and cut bait. It is not time for more stalling and delays, such as the additional public hearings that state Rep. Paul Clymer, a Bucks County Republican, would like to hold. The House Speaker's Reform Commission has thrashed this out; the Senate has had ample time to study the issue. Solid frameworks exist. There is nothing tricky about what needs done.

The House should hold a meeting this week (as of last week, none has been scheduled) to report the bill out of committee, and the full House should get the ball rolling by voting on its version the week of Oct. 22.

As the fine-tuning unwinds, confidentiality of e-mails and whether to include records from the past are still being thrashed out. While we have lauded Mahoney's strong efforts in the House, which have verified our endorsement of him in 2006, we urge him to reconsider his position that any broader definition of public records should only apply to documents generated after the new law goes into effect.

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

If government officials have engaged in questionable spending or other practices, yes, we do, Mr. Mahoney. This is not a case of giving anyone a free pass, even in the name of bill-passing expediency.

Odd isn't it, too. The PA Newspaper Publisher Association's own legal analyst/lawyer has been snubbed by the absence of reporting of her full comments...

Note Mahoney's bill without the amendments applied only to newly created records. In fact during the Monday press conference hosted by (created by the PA Newspaper Association) Tim Mahoney made a brief statement to that effect.

Here are Henning's objections, again:

The bill in its current form allows agencies to deny requests they consider “burdensome,” which Pennsylvania Newspaper Association lawyer Teri Henning said is a vague and subjective term.

Henning said there are legal problems with a provision that would generally apply the bill only to newly created records. If an existing record is not open to the public now, it probably will not be open in the future.

“If the point is to improve access, then access should be improved,” she said...

See our posts

Mahoney Open Records Bill Called Corruption Protection Act

PA Rep. Tim Mahoney Unavailable to Explain Public Records Exemptions

Citizen Discontent Open Records Exemptions

Proposed bill restricts public access to lawmakers' e-mails
By Kori Walter, For the Herald-Standard
Updated 10/20/2007 12:16:01 AM EDT

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania would have one of the nation's most restrictive laws on access to public officials' e-mail messages under an open records bill that the state House of Representatives plans to consider this week.

The legislation would ban public access to all e-mail messages sent or received from all public officials whether it's the governor or a township supervisor.

Under current state law, the public can view Pennsylvania state and municipal officials' e-mail if the content meets the state's narrow definition of a public record. And the Legislature is not subject to the state's open records law, making all of its e-mail off-limits.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va., said most states - either through court orders or the lack of explicit bans on releasing e-mail messages - treat e-mail the same as any other record kept by a public officials.

Giving the public access to e-mail is important because officials sometimes vent controversial issues online before debating them in public, she said.

"We tell reporters that e-mail doesn't stand for electronic mail, it stands for evidence mail," said Dalglish, whose organization provides legal assistance to media members involved in First Amendment disputes. "You put something down in writing, and it's got some traction to it."

But Rep. Greg Vitali said allowing the public to view their e-mail would violate constituents' privacy rights.

Vitali, a Delaware County Democrat, wrote the provision that would exclude e-mail messages from the open records law the House is considering.

He said constituents who send e-mail messages to lawmakers seeking help with an issue do not expect that their requests will ever become public...

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