|I plan to introduce legislation which will strengthen Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law. This legislation will focus only on the components of last session’s Senate Bill 444 which had widespread support. Additional changes to the Open Records Law relating to state related universities will be introduced in a separate bill by Senator Blake.
Specifically, this bill will:
- Ensure that prison inmates have access to records related to themselves and their incarceration, but otherwise limit their right to file requests. Presently, appeals from inmates account for over 40 percent of all appeals to the Office of Open Records (OOR);
- Add “campus police” to the definition of “location agency” so that they are covered by in the same manner as municipal police departments;
- Clarify that if a public record exists in a specific computer file format, the agency must provide the record in that format upon request;
- Clarify that certain tax forms (e.g., federal Form W-2) are “personal financial information” and not public;
- Expand the definition of “local agency” to clarify that entities such as economic development authorities and industrial development authorities are covered;
- Allow requests to be made to the head of an agency (e.g., a department secretary) in addition to an agency’s open-records officer;
- Change the time frame for responses depending on how the original request was submitted. In most cases, the existing five-day response time remains in effect. For requests submitted by postal mail, agencies will have 10 days from the postmark date to provide a response;
- Clarify that an agency’s bank account numbers, bank routing numbers, credit card numbers or passwords are not public;
- Conform the definitions of “state-affiliated entity” and “independent agency” to other statutes;
- Make changes to the time frame for the appeal process, reflecting the real-world experience of the OOR and ensuring that the OOR has the ability to conduct hearings when appropriate;
- Clarify that the OOR may conduct in camera record reviews;
- Clarify that the OOR has standing and may participate in appeals of OOR decisions;
- Require the OOR to abstain from public comment on pending proceedings;
- Allow agencies to charge reasonable fees for processing commercial requests.