Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law

Over a year ago, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed the Right-to-Know bill into law. On January 1, 2009, all levels of Pennsylvania government must now make its records open to the public. The new law includes a presumption that records are open. For the first time in Pennsylvania’s history, a citizen no longer must prove that a record is public and that it should be released. Now, a Pennsylvania government agency must presume that its records are public and make them available for inspection or copying. If the government agency chooses to withhold a record, the agency has the burden to prove – with legal citation – why that record should not be available to the public. Of course, some records are not open, such as criminal investigation reports or complete personnel records.

"The Mission of the Office of Open Records is to enforce the state’s Right-to-Know law and to serve as a resource for citizens, public officials and members of the media in obtaining public records of their government."

The new law is not just for state government, but also for county, and municipal agencies. Even volunteer fire companies must comply.

Getting information from local government officials has sometimes been difficult, if not impossible, in the past. As a working correspondent for a newspaper, some local officials would do everything they could to prevent the flow of public information. Some things I remember fighting to get included the salaries of school administrators. This is clearly public information: the salaries are paid by taxpayers, and they certainly have a right to know what the salary is that they are paying. Hopefully, the new Right to Know law will make this kind of information more readily available here in Pennsylvania.

The law established the Open Records office. Their Web site is http://openrecords.state.pa.us/.

-- George Sheldon, www.georgesheldon.com

2 comments:

Cate Masters said...

As a former RTK officer for a state agency, I can say without reserve that we went out of our way to provide requested info well within the timeframe, many times at no cost. This law's a good step toward evening the playing field at the local level, but I can also say sometimes the number of frivolous requests hindered fulfilling the real ones.

Susan Kelley said...

The law is a good thing, but I'm willing to bet there will still be a lot of reluctance and slow turning of the wheels from some officials.