Senate Votes to Strengthen State’s Open Records Law

Senator Baker Supports Reform Measure

Harrisburg – Pennsylvanians will have greater and easier access to government records under legislation approved today by the state Senate, according to Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).

Baker strongly supported Senate Bill 1, which would revamp and strengthen the state’s Open Records Law, which has not been significantly changed since it was passed in 1957.

“The fact that we gave the open records legislation the designation as Senate Bill 1 is an indication of our strong commitment to government reform and greater public access to information,” Baker said. “This is just one of a number of measures we have been pushing to make government more open and accountable to state taxpayers.”

The legislation would make a key change in the current law by adding a “presumption” that all records from Commonwealth agencies and local agencies are public unless they fall under a specific exception established in the law. The exceptions allow certain records to remain private, such as Social Security numbers, medical records, records that would threaten domestic security, and police investigative records.

“As a result, the burden to prove exceptions is on the government, and no longer on the individual who is trying to gain access to the information,” Baker said.

Senate Bill 1 would also establish a state office that will be the first point of appeal for disputes and provide regular training to local, county and state officials on how the law is to be applied. The new Open Records Clearinghouse would be an independent entity within the Department of Community and Economic Development.

“This will help to ensure that the Open Records Clearinghouse can operate independently, without bias or political pressure,” Baker said.

Senate Bill 1 would also significantly improve Pennsylvania’s current Open Records Law by:

  • Requiring state contracts, including contracts with the Legislature, to be posted online in a searchable database.

  • Requiring the Open Records Clearinghouse to provide information, training and advisory opinions on the Open Records Law and Sunshine Law.

  • Cutting the response period for state agencies from 10 days to 5 days.

  • Improving the appeals process.

  • Increasing penalties for noncompliance from $300 to $1,000 for a first offense, and up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.

  • Requiring all agencies to appoint an open records officer to specifically deal with requests, including coordination and tracking.

  • Requiring the Open Records Clearinghouse to create a standard document which may be used to request records, making it easier for citizens.

  • Requiring agencies to accept email requests.

  • Establishing standard fees for photocopying records.

  • Adding the judicial branch’s financial records to the law.

  • Clarifying that PHEAA is covered by the law.

 Contact: Carol Maravic
(717) 787-6725

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