Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Flaws in PA's new open-records law

Not everyone is overjoyed with Pennsylvania's new open-records law, which kicks in Jan. 1, 2009.

While many within the state have praised the new Right-To-Know Law, an expert in open government from a neighboring state isn't ready to pop the champagne.

"I don't think that this is a panacea," Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, told the Elmira Star Gazette. "It may be an improvement, but there are in my opinion lots of areas in which the law could have been drafted more effectively."

Freeman told the newspaper that Pennsylvania's new law leaves too many exceptions.

Freeman compared the Pennsylvania law with an existing one in New York and found several exemptions in the Keystone State law that N.Y. doesn't have:

* Complaints submitted to an agency, work papers underlying an audit, draft minutes and other records. In disclosing complaints, New York agencies can withhold the name.

* Pennsylvania exempts performance evaluations and the employment application of someone not hired by an agency. In New York, some information on a performance evaluation and an employment application can be withheld, Freeman said.

* The Pennsylvania law states that it does not supersede or modify the public or nonpublic nature of a record established in federal or state law, by regulation or judicial order or decree. New York law covers exemptions under statutes but not agency regulations.
Read the full story at the newspaper's Web site.

The newspaper editorialized about the new Pennsylvania law, saying it's a step in the right direction:
But considering that Pennsylvania has had some of the weakest Freedom of Information laws in the land for more than 50 years, this seems like a good start.

It's now up to the public agencies to abide by the new law and the Office of Open Records to truly advocate for the public's right to know.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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