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Open Records Law for State-Related Universities Step Closer to Passage

A lot more information about Pennsylvania’s state-related universities could be revealed soon.

The Senate State Government Committee unanimously approved legislation to expand Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law to the state-owned universities.

Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University are mostly exempt from the Open Records Law, which calls for transparency of finances and other information to the public.

If the bill is approved and signed by Governor Tom Corbett, it would require the universities to create searchable, sortable and downloadable databases on their public websites.

This would include information about contracts of $5,000 or more and reports on the top 200 employee salaries. Universities with fewer than 2,500 employees would only be required to continue reporting the top 25 salaries.

“One of the ways the law works is that now governments and agencies know that all of their documents that are appropriately opened to the public will be opened to the public, and the public will have access to it,” Smith said. “So I think it acts like a defensive measure to make sure that agencies and government are responsive and are doing the right things for taxpayers.”

However, Smith said the bill will take steps to protect employees and students from too much information being revealed.

“There’s protections and safeguards put in place so the personal information is not disclosed,” Smith said. “Items like that, for instance, there’s safeguards in place for municipal governments that they are not overly burdened by commercial requests.”

Kenneth Service, Vice Chancellor for Communications at the University of Pittsburgh, said they already work to make a lot of information available to the public.

“We’ve always taken seriously the need to be good stewards of the public resources, which are committed to supporting the mission of the university,” Service said. “And we think we’ve demonstrated over the years the benefits to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania from the use of those resources, and we already make a great deal of information about the University of Pittsburgh available to the public in a convenient and accessible way.”

He said the university supports the requirement that campus police departments be covered by the law in the same way local police departments are.

“Our police force is a highly trained and effective organization, has always been in compliance with legal requirements,” Service said. “And as a result of that, we support the expansion of the application of the Right to Know Law in it’s application to the Pitt Police Department.”

As for the the law’s other requirements, Service said Pitt remains committed to working with the state Senate Government Committee to address any issues.

He said the university appreciates the committee’s willingness to keep them in the conversation.

The bill is now on the Senate floor.