|I plan to introduce legislation which will address a number of issues with respect to Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law.
Overall, the new Open Records Law has been an overwhelming success. Tens of thousands of government records – many of which would not have been available under the prior law – have been provided to concerned citizens and members of the media. The Office of Open Records (OOR) has heard more than 5,000 appeals of decisions by government agencies to deny access to records.
Over the past five years, a number issues have been raised which I believe warrant amendments to the Open Records Law. Accordingly, the bill I introduce will:
I believe that the Open Records Law’s application to state-related universities should be broadened. However, my legislation – as introduced – will not address this issue. I have asked State Government Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker to convene a public hearing, after which I believe the Senate will be well-positioned to make an informed decision on this important issue, either in the form of an amendment to my bill or in separate legislation.
- Create a new fee structure for commercial requests, allowing agencies to charge more for these types of requests.
- Add records of volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and other volunteer emergency providers to the list of exceptions, other than financial records if the organization has a contract with a local agency.
- Allow agencies to petition a court for a protective order against unduly burdensome requests, and allow agencies to deny a request to a party to litigation if the request is related to litigation or was previously made in discovery.
- Create a new section covering inmate access to records, specifying what records inmates may request.
- Clarify the law’s application to records related to third-party contractors, ensuring that the contract and “any public records of the agency relating to the contract” are available under the law.
- Clarify that an agency’s bank account numbers, bank routing numbers, credit card numbers or passwords are not public.
- 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 safety inspection reports are public.
- Add “campus police” to the definition of “location agency” so that they are covered by the law just as local police departments are.
- 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.
- Clarify that certain tax forms (e.g., federal Form W-2) are “personal financial information” and not public.
- Establish that certain payment records, such as those requested from water and sewer authorities, are to be made available through a “clearance certificate” process.
- Allow agencies to require pre-payment if record duplication costs are expected to exceed $50, rather than the $100 threshold in current law.
- 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.
- 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 clarify that the OOR may conduct in camera record reviews.
- Clearly establish the OOR as an independent agency, clarify that the OOR has standing and may participate in appeals of OOR decisions, and require the OOR to abstain from public comment on pending proceedings.
- Make a number of other clarifying and technical changes.
If you have any questions about this proposed legislation, please contact me or Kathy Eakin or Erik Arneson in my office.