Citizens’ Lobby Says More Work Needed on Open Records
For Immediate Release
January 31, 2008
Barry Kauffman, 717.232.9951
CITIZENS’ LOBBY SAYS MORE WORK NEEDED ON OPEN RECORDS
Common Cause/PA is urging the House and Senate to further improve SB-1, the Open Records law. The executive director of the citizens lobby, Barry Kauffman, said “Open Records are incredibly important to government accountability. Unfortunately, SB-1 still contains several critical flaws. So we must insist that our lawmakers stick with the job until they get it right this time. We know they can do better. They must do better. A championship quality open records law is within our grasp if our lawmakers have the stamina and don’t fumble this important effort.”
First, under the current version of the bill, the General Assembly would not be under the jurisdiction of the Office of Open Records like other state and local agencies. The House and Senate would get to decide for themselves whether they are in compliance with the law. With no independent intermediary review process, a citizen’s only recourse for challenging a legislative records denial would be to file suit in the Commonwealth Court, an expensive and time-consuming process.
Second, the Office of Open Records would not be truly independent. It would reside in the Department of Community and Economic Development, a state department under the Governor that is noted for being close with local government officials. The Open Records Office must be placed within a truly independent agency like the Ethics Commission to ensure its credibility.
Third, the language regarding fees remains sufficiently nebulous as to permit agencies to charge citizens lots of nuisance fees to obtain records. Citizens already own these records and already pay for the staff who manage and protect them.
Kauffman went on to say “The legislature is near the end of this long and grueling endeavor. But they shouldn’t give in simply because the task is arduous. They’re six points short of a championship quality law. They need to score one more touchdown for the citizens by making the legislature subject to the same oversight and enforcement as other agencies, putting oversight and enforcement under a truly independent agency like the Ethics Commission, and tightly restricting fees agencies can charge citizens for records.”