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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: January 26, 2015 03:02 PM
From: Senator John P. Blake and Sen. Dominic Pileggi
To: All Senate members
Subject: Strengthening the Right to Know Law for State Related Universities
 
I will soon be introducing a bill – similar in intent to legislation I authored during the last two sessions – to amend the Right-to-Know Law (Act 3 of 2008) to bring greater transparency to the records of our State-Related Universities (Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln). By a unanimous vote late last session, the Senate approved Senator Pileggi’s Senate Bill 444, which was ultimately amended to include the state-related university language I will be introducing. I am once again pleased to be working alongside Senator Pileggi – the original author of the Right-to-Know Law – to improve the act with pair of complementary bills. Accordingly, I am circulating this memo concurrently with Senator Pileggi’s proposal to amend other aspects of the law.

Specifically, my legislation will significantly increase the amount of university personnel salary information that must be disclosed. The bill will also provide access to budgetary and contract information in user-friendly, searchable online databases. My legislation will not affect existing, statutory exclusions related to privacy or similar legal protections required under law.

At the time of the passage of the Right-to-Know Law, I had the privilege of serving as the Executive Deputy Secretary of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development where the Office of Open Records was housed. I had interaction with the director and staff of the Open Records office as this important, ground-breaking statute was implemented in Pennsylvania. While at DCED and since my arrival in the Senate I had considered possible improvements to the law as new learning was obtained in its implementation. Among those improvements were changes in the manner in which our Right-to-Know Law treated our state-related institutions of higher learning. It is important to note that Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the nation that explicitly exempts such universities from open records provisions – Alaska and Delaware the other two. For most of the nation, state-funded universities’ records are presumed open or have been judicially confirmed as open.

As you know, prior to the 2008 Right-to-Know Law the burden of determining that which is a public record rested with the general public. Upon Governor Rendell’s signing of this law the burden was successfully shifted to government offices/agencies and to other publicly funded institutions to determine or to explain why a certain record is not public information. This was a very positive legislative achievement in Pennsylvania and I commend caucus leaders and members of the General Assembly who supported this necessary change. It evidences a commitment to improved transparency and accountability at all levels of government.

Our institutions of higher learning are powerful engines for the state’s economy. They are world class institutions and we need to ensure they remain so. My measure to expand the extent to which the state-related institutions are subject to the Right-to-Know Law will not undermine key and important elements of their operations or mission and they are not intended to undermine their competitive position or economic impact. There is, however, plenty of room for improvement in the level of transparency and accountability we can expect from these institutions. As was the case in the prior session, we will continue to involve the Governor’s Office, leadership of the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the legislature, and representatives from the state-related institutions in discussions and developments relating to this proposal.


Introduced as SB412