Sens. Blake &Pileggi: Bills to Strengthen Right-to-Know Law Introduced

HARRISBURG – Two bills which will significantly strengthen Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law have been introduced by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9), the author of the state’s current law, and Sen. John Blake (D-22), a longtime advocate for increased transparency.

“Since the new Open Records Law was enacted in 2008, the public has been given access to tens of thousands of government documents that were previously unavailable,” Sen. Pileggi said. “My legislation will strengthen the law for both requesters and agencies by simplifying the appeals process for requesters, giving the Office of Open Records much-needed flexibility in addressing complex appeals, and reducing the burden of requests from inmates. I’m pleased to be working with Sen. John Blake on this crucial effort.”

Senate Bill 411 (Pileggi) will also establish a new, reasonable fee structure for commercial requests, ensure that requests made to campus police departments receive the same treatment as requests to municipal police departments, and clarify that entities such as economic development authorities and industrial development authorities are covered by the law.

“It’s important to take up reforms to the Right-to-Know Law in this legislative session,” Sen. Blake said. “I’m glad to continue the work begun in the last session with my friend and colleague, Sen. Dominic Pileggi. Senate Bill 444 was passed unanimously out of the Senate in the last session but, due to time constraints, was not taken up in the House. This update of our Open Records statute is informed by more than six years of experience. Expanding the law’s coverage regarding reporting and transparency for our four state-related universities is essential and long overdue.”

Senate Bill 412 (Blake) will require state-related universities – Penn State, Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln – to create freely accessible online databases which include extensive budget, revenue and expenditure data; the number of employees and aggregated, non-personal employee data; and the number of students and aggregated, non-personal student data.

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Sen. Blake Joins Senate in Unanimously Approving Changes to PA’s RTK Law

HARRISBURG, Sept. 24, 2014 – Sen. John Blake today applauded the passage of legislation that would make significant reforms to Pennsylvania’s open records law.

Sen. Blake stewarded the discussions with the four state-related universities – Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln – and crafted the amendment to Senate Bill 444 to bring the schools under enhanced Right to Know disclosure requirements.

If approved by the House and governor, SB 444 would require the state-related universities to publicly disclose and display their top 250 salaries, revenue and expenditure reports, academic and administrative support information, audited financial statements, minutes of any public meeting, information on the expenditure of their non-preferred General Fund appropriations, and detailed information on the goods and services contracts they procure and award.  All of this information is required to be posted on-line and must be retained for 20 years.

“This has been many months of work and it has involved six years of learning as the Office of Open Records implemented Pennsylvania’s 2008 Right to Know statute,” Blake said. “The change affecting the state-related universities is an enormous enhancement in disclosures. It assures the public can learn more about how these institutions utilize their significant, annual state appropriations with ease and predictability.”

Blake thanked and commended Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, State Government Committee chairmen Sens. Lloyd Smucker and Matt Smith and their staffs for their work in ensuring  Pennsylvania’s Open Records law be strengthened and enhanced to better serve the public interest.

Additionally, Blake urged Gov. Tom Corbett to reappoint Terry Mutchler as the executive director of the Office of Open Records. Mutchler’s term expired this past April.

“Mutchler shepherded the implementation and management of the Office of Open Records in an exemplary way,” Blake said. “She is recognized nationally as a subject-matter expert in the area of public transparency and accountability. There is no individual who is as qualified and deserving for re-appointment to her current post.”

Sen. Blake also urged his colleagues in the House to adopt Senate Bill 444 as swiftly as possible.

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Bill to Expand Open Records Law for State-Related Universities Approved by Senate State Government Committee

HARRISBURG,  June 18, 2014 – Legislation to dramatically expand how Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law applies to the four state-related universities – Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University – was unanimously approved today by the Senate State Government Committee.

As amended by the State Government Committee, Senate Bill 444 will require Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln to create searchable, sortable and downloadable databases on their freely accessible public websites. The databases will include extensive budget, revenue and expenditure data; the number of employees and aggregated, non-personal employee data; and the number of students and aggregated, non-personal student data.

State-related universities will also be required to post information about contracts valued at $5,000 or more on Pennsylvania’s online contract database, and most of the universities will be required to report the top 200 employee salaries. State-related universities with fewer than 2,500 employees will continue to report the top 25 salaries, as required by the existing law.

“For the first time, the public will have easy online access to detailed budget and academic data for Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), author of Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law and the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 444. “Given the level of public support that goes to these universities every year, it makes perfect sense to take this important step.”

“This bill will be another big win for taxpayers,” said Senate State Government Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-13). “In recent years, citizens have seen too much of the serious ethical problems and the scandals that secrecy is conducive to. In contrast, the Open Records Law has improved accountability and given the public a much better look at what their government is doing. That’s the sort of transparency we want to build on.”

“Under this amended Senate Bill 444, our state-related universities will be held accountable for every state dollar the institutions receive,” said Senator John Blake (D-22), who has been a strong advocate for expanding the law’s coverage of state-related universities. “This necessary improvement in the Open Records Law dramatically increases the amount of information subject to public scrutiny and enhances the ease with which citizens can obtain that information. I was glad to work with Senator Dominic Pileggi in achieving these important reforms.”

“This is an important step in providing greater transparency and accountability in how significant public funds are being spent,” said Senator Matt Smith (D-37), the Democratic Chairman of the State Government Committee. “This was a collaborative bipartisan effort to ensure that state tax dollars are best serving students of the commonwealth.”

The underlying bill includes additional improvements to the existing Open Records Law, such as ensuring that campus police departments are covered by the law just as local police departments are, clarifying that safety inspection reports are public, establishing a new fee structure for commercial requests, and creating a new section to address records requests made by inmates.

A separate amendment adopted today by the State Government Committee clarifies the news media’s exemption from the commercial request provisions, ensures that the Office of Open Records – even as a fully independent agency – will receive appropriate payroll and administrative support, and makes a number of smaller changes.

Senator Pileggi said he intends to continue work on the legislation through the summer. “Pennsylvania’s new Open Records Law is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation,” he said. “This bill makes a number of important and necessary changes, and it’s important to get them right.”

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CONTACTS:

Erik Arneson (Senator Pileggi), earneson@pasen.gov, 717-787-4712

Matt Parido (Senator Smucker), mparido@pasen.gov, 717-787-6535

Luc Miron (Senator Blake), lmiron@pasenate.com, 717-787-6481

Lauren Fraley (Senator Smith), lfraley@pasenate.com, 717-787-5839 (cell 724-747-0692)