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House of Representatives
Session of 2023 - 2024 Regular Session


Posted: June 26, 2023 09:19 AM
From: Representative R. Lee James
To: All House members
Subject: Volunteer Fire/EMS Companies and the Right-To-Know Law
In the immediate future, I plan to introduce similar legislation from a few Sessions ago that will address a very important issue that has and continues to impact our volunteer fire and EMS companies throughout Pennsylvania. 
My proposal addresses one of the recommendations included in the SR 6 Commission Report issued in November 2018, which highlighted the problems our fire and EMS companies face daily.
Pennsylvania’ fire and EMS companies continue to be subjected to requests for documents regarding the private operations of fire companies under the Right-To-Know Law (RTKL), also known as Act 3 of 2008. 
The Office of Open Records (OOR) has issued and continues to issue Final Determinations stating that volunteer fire companies are considered “local agencies” under the RTKL and therefore are required to comply with all the provisions contained therein. 
Our own Commonwealth Court as well as cases heard and decided by county courts across the Commonwealth, have issued varying opinions on the subject.
The underlying premise that the OOR relied on in its various decisions is that volunteer fire companies are subject to the law because they are a “similar governmental entity” under the definition of a “Local agency.”  By extension, the Commonwealth Court instructed, on remand, that a trial court and the OOR develop a case record to establish the degree to which a local government exercises control over a volunteer first responder entity.
In the first OOR decision, issued in 2009, several county courts ruled that fire and EMS companies are not subject to the RTKL, yet others ruled the opposite.  Regardless, these decisions did not have a statewide impact and required a ruling by the Commonwealth Court to have the decision apply across the state.  That ruling has since come down from the Commonwealth Court and now requires the intervention of the General Assembly, representing the citizens of this state to set the public policy on whether not our volunteer first responder organizations are to be subject to the RTKL or should it be the state and local governments, who are the ones that have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of the state.
To that end, it is my intention to have the General Assembly determine this statewide policy and not our court system.
I do not believe that the passage of Act 3 of 2008 was intended to capture our volunteer fire and EMS companies.  Volunteer fire and EMS companies have neither the human nor the financial resources for this type of mandate.  
Any funding or assistance that is provided to our emergency services organizations through local or state government entities is naturally an open record under other various state and municipal codes that currently require reporting and documentation as does the RTKL under Section 506 of the statute.
My legislation simply exempts volunteer fire, rescue, and EMS companies from the RTKL by prohibiting them from being considered a “local agency” under the RTKL.  Therefore, my legislation will advance Recommendation #26 in the 2018 SR 6 Report.
Please join me in sponsoring this important legislation to remove an unnecessary burden on our volunteer first responders.   

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Introduced as HB1965