Wednesday, February 13, 2008

PA Open Records Senate Approved Concurred with House

Open records overhaul sent to Rendell
State Senate unanimously approves bill
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- New open-records legislation is on its way to the governor's desk with the unanimous support of both chambers of the Legislature.

The Senate yesterday passed the bill, which is designed to let the public know more about state and local government spending and operations.

The sweeping rewrite of the Right-to-Know law was a key part of a wider reform agenda aimed at garnering public trust that was lost over the middle-of-the-night pay raises lawmakers approved for themselves in 2005.

Under the changes, all government records will be considered public unless their custodian can show there is an exemption in the law precluding disclosure.

The bill does not prevent the disclosure of any records, but does allow agencies to withhold certain documents, said the bill's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester.

One example, Mr. Pileggi said, will be school districts that choose to publicize honor rolls even though the law provides for the withholding of ages, addresses and birth dates of minors.

The law includes a catch-all allowing records to be withheld if there is a high chance disclosure would harm an individual or threaten public safety.

It also protects Social Security numbers, criminal investigative materials, personal bank information and medical records from disclosure.

The new law would provide greater access to 911 tapes, mandate access to many of the Legislature's records and expand the law to include Pennsylvania's state-related universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Lincoln and Temple.

The bill calls for establishment of a state Office of Open Records to assist agencies in determining their obligation to release records. The bill also requires state contracts to be posted online and that agencies respond to information requests within five days, and it sets penalties for those willfully denying access to records that are public under state law.

No comments: