Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Senate Panel Considers Changes to State's Right to Know Law One Sets Separate Fees for Business, Citizen Requests

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Senate Panel Considers Changes to State's Right to Know Law One Sets Separate Fees for Business, Citizen Requests

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- Less information could be available to the public about private contractors doing government work, as well as about volunteer fire departments, under changes being considered in the state Senate to Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law.

Other possible changes to the law would adjust how prison inmates (now responsible for about a third of Right-to-Know requests) ask for information, and would set up separate fee schedules for everyday citizens inquiring about government versus businesses requesting information for a commercial purpose.

The state's Right to Know Law went into effect in 2009; the bill under consideration would make modifications that some legislators believe are needed to clarify the law's intent and to ease what can be burdensome requests on some smaller government entities such as townships.

Of concern to the state's highest open records officer: a provision allowing government agencies to declare a records request "unduly burdensome," thus allowing the agency to bypass the Office of Open Records, and a prohibition on the Office of Open Records speaking publicly on pending cases, said Terry Mutchler, executive director of that office.

"There are some very good open government components to this law, but there are two or three particularly troubling components that need to be addressed," she said.

Several township officials testified Monday they would support separate fee systems for regular citizens and for businesses making public records requests that seem to be clearly for sales purposes.

One official said her township receives monthly requests for all new dwelling permits from a window company, requests from an alarm system company for all new building permits and requests for all swimming pool permits from a landscaping company.

"This should not be a township-workforce related function," said Robin Getz, a township manager for North Cornwall in Lebanon County, testifying Monday before the state Senate's government committee. …

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