The House and Senate recently passed and Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law major revisions to the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, also known as the open records act. This is the first extensive revision of the Commonwealth’s open records law in decades.
Recent history saw emails, text messaging and cell phones present challenges to open records issues. Identity theft and computer security are among new crimes that must be considered when discussing the level of public accessibility. What resulted was the difficult task of striking a balance between the right of the public and media to access open records and the right to privacy of individual information.
All government records will now be presumed open to the public under Act 3, with certain exceptions geared to protect personal privacy and maintain homeland security. Government agencies will now have to prove why a record should not be made public.
Some of the major reforms in the new law include:
A flip of the presumption that presumes all records are public, with exceptions such as information about Social Security numbers, criminal investigative materials, personal bank account information, medical and autopsy records and communications between a person and a member of the General Assembly.
An Office of Open Records will be created within the Department of Com-munity and Economic Development and will be dedicated to handling all open
Financial records of the state’s judiciary branch will be available.
A reduction from 10 days to five days in the time state government and legislative offices can take to respond to requests.
The law will be fully in effect by Jan. 1, 2009.
House Republicans faced some criticism for taking a few extra days to amend the open records bill sent to them by the Senate. It is obvious that this was time well spent when you consider the alternative of rushed and flawed legislation that threatened your personal security.
During final debate on the bill, Republicans fought for and won several key changes to prevent identity theft and strengthen the open records law as it relates to personal privacy of senior citizens and people with disabilities who use various social services, as well as domestic violence victim addresses and 911 recordings.
Before Act 3, we did not have a satisfactory level of openness and transparency that you deserve from your state government. I am very pleased with Pennsylvania’s new Right-To-Know Law and am proud to have supported this important legislation.
Rep. Dave Hickernell
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
House Republican Public Relations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 6, 2008