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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Bill To Broaden State Open Records Law Passes The PA Senate

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 FM WESA

Nestled firmly in a bill passed last week by the Pennsylvania Senate is a long list of reporting requirements that, if passed by the House and signed by the governor, would force the University of Pittsburgh and the three other state-related universities to disclose data ranging from minutes of meetings to ratios of course credits awarded to various types of students.

“One of the concerns is the additional stress in terms of cost of collecting the information,” Pitt spokesman Ken Service said. “We divulge a great deal of information already voluntarily and also in compliance with current state regulation.”

Currently, the state-related institutions of Pitt, Pennsylvania State, Temple and Lincoln universities must list the salaries of their 25 highest paid employees, an outshoot of efforts by the public and the press to learn the salary of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno during the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which took place on Paterno's watch.

Under Senate Bill 411, the universities would have to report the pay of all employees in wide bans not to exceed $75,000; mean and median salaries for various types of employees; and details of non-salary compensation. It also requires the schools to report how funds are spent on just about every other function, including all contracts worth more than $5,000 and all “auxiliary enterprises.”

“A lot of information that will make it a lot easier for the citizens of Pennsylvania to hold accountable our state-related institutions that are the recipients of a significant amount of state appropriations,” said state Sen. John Blake (D- Lackawanna) during floor debate.

Pitt received $136.3 million in the 2014-15 state budget.

“We believe right now that we are very much giving enough information for the public to be able to determine how the state dollars that are invested are wisely used here by the university,” Service said.

Pitt will comply any new reporting requirements passed into law, he said.

The bill also expands reporting requirements for university police departments; faculty members' time allocation among time spent in classrooms, performing research and preparing for instruction; money spent on travel expenses; and figures for tuition reimbursement offered to employees and their families.

The bill would amend the state open records law in many non-university areas as well, including adding public school teachers to the list of individuals whose addresses are not subject to open records requests and generally restricting the information available to prison inmates through such requests.