Senate State Government Committee Hearing Explores Open Records Law Improvements

HARRISBURG — The Senate State Government Committee reviewed how the state’s Open Records Law applies to state-related universities and inmates during a public hearing [Monday], according to Committee Chairman Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-13).

“Pennsylvania taxpayers are benefitting from a very strong and public-friendly open records law, but we acknowledge it can be made better,” Smucker said. “The law’s treatment of state-related universities and inmates are two of the biggest problem areas. Further clarity and insight are necessary to move forward on this significant piece of public interest legislation.”

Participants debated proposed measures to strengthen the Open Records law as included in Senate Bill 444, legislation introduced earlier this year by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9).

“Today’s hearing was a significant part of improving Pennsylvania’s strong Right-to-Know Law, and I thank Senator Smucker and the members of the State Government Committee for taking this step,” Pileggi said. “I will now work with Senator Smucker to advance Senate Bill 444. The first step is to draft an amendment addressing many of the issues raised at today’s hearing and the hearing held in May.”

In testimony submitted to the committee, representatives of the four state-related universities (Lincoln University, Penn State, Pitt and Temple) voiced support for a provision of Senate Bill 444 that would bring campus police departments under the full purview of the law. Testimony also included a thorough discussion of how the legislation would apply to state-related universities in terms of disclosure requirements regarding the use of state dollars appropriated to the universities.

The committee also heard testimony from Office of Open Records Executive Director Terry Mutchler, Bucks County Solicitor Open Records Officer Regina Armitage and American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Director Andy Hoover regarding inmate access to records. Smucker stressed the need to address the issue in a way that reduces outlandish and frivolous requests from inmates without closing off access to relevant information, such as documents that are vital to potential appeals.

Senate Bill 444 would preserve access to an inmate’s financial, disciplinary, educational, housing and tax records, as well as criminal records relating to the inmate and records relating to any federal or state benefit received by the inmate or for which the inmate is eligible.

The committee began its public review of the Open Records Law during a hearing on May 13. Video of both hearings is available online at www.senatorsmucker.com.

~ News Release via Dominic F. Pileggi,
Pennsylvania Senate, 9th District Senate ~

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