The state Senate today approved a bill (Senate Bill 1) to strengthen Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law – giving state residents improved access to government records, according to Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).
Baker supported the measure, which is part of an overall effort to reform state government and provide for greater access, transparency and accountability.
“We wanted to ensure that state taxpayers have access to public information and do not have to jump through hoops to obtain records from government agencies,” Baker said. “Greater access to these public records will ensure that government is accountable to state residents.”
The bill makes a key change to current law by adding a “presumption” that all records from state and local agencies are public unless they fall under a specific exception that allow certain records to remain private, such as Social Security numbers, medical records, records that would threaten domestic security, and police investigative records.
“This is extremely important in strengthening the law because the burden of proof is no longer on the individual who is trying to gain access to the information,” Baker said. “The information is considered public unless the government can prove that it meets narrow exceptions.”
The bill would also establish a state office to handle appeals 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.
Baker said the reform measure also improves the appeals process, making it easier for a citizen to challenge an agency’s decision not to release a record. It reduces the time period for response by a Commonwealth agency and legislative agency from 10 days to 5 days and increases financial penalties for noncompliance and makes it easier for plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees if an agency acts in bad faith.
“These changes will give the law greater teeth and ensure that government agencies comply in a timely manner to requests for information,” Baker said.
Contact: Brian Grove