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Politics & Government

Right-To-Know Revisions Await Lawmakers

Legislation is waiting in the wings to update the state’s Right-to-Know law, overhauled in 2008 to make government records more accessible.

The eight-year-old re-write corrected laws once considered among the worst in the nation and flung open the filing cabinets of some state and local government and let the public in – to sometimes overwhelming effect.

What’s the single largest category of people filing record requests?

“Inmates,” said Office of Open Records Director Erik Arneson. “We haven’t run the final numbers yet, but they were something north of 45 percent of the caseload here at the Office of Open Records.”

One of the proposed reforms would cut down on inmate requests deemed to be frivolous.

“We’ve had requests to Blair Township for records relating to the Blair Witch Project,” said Arneson. “That’s just somebody who has far too much time on their hands.”

Other pending revisions would let government agencies charge fees to fill record requests from businesses. They would also require state-related universities like Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln make their information more publicly available.

The wide-ranging updates to the open records law have passed the Senate and are now before the House State Government Committee. Chairman Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) did not return a request for comment.

Arneson is hopeful the updates can pass this spring.

For now, the legislature is in something of a lull, with many lawmakers focused on the April 26 primary election and little action on a state budget.

Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland) said it’s as if the legislature run out of bandwidth to deal with anything but the budget, even with a partial spending plan in place.

“Any meaningful legislation is stalled now,” Vance said. “The... budget has taken the oxygen out of every other discussion that’s out there.”