HARRISBURG – The state Senate today unanimously approved a bill that vastly expands the public's access to government records.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said that if the legislation becomes law, Pennsylvania would be elevated from having among the nation's worst open-records laws to likely having one of the best.
"At least we are in the position to make that claim," Pileggi said. "Before, it was inarguably one of the worst in the country."
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) said the House leadership would review changes made by the Senate before determining whether it would vote on it in its current form. If the House amends the bill it would have to go back to the Senate for concurrence.
The bill, considered a cornerstone of government reform efforts underway in the legislature, had been stalled for months because of disagreements between the House and Senate.
The bill replaces Pennsylvania's antiquated Right-to-Know law, which placed the burden of proof on the individual or group seeking access to records. Under the current legislation, the burden of proof is shifted to the government agency or the legislature, which must make the case why it should not release the document.
In essence, the bill requires that all records be considered public unless specifically exempted under the law.
Those exemptions would include autopsy reports, investigative reports related to law enforcement, medical records, Social Security numbers, and home and personal cellular phone numbers.
Also exempted would be constituent letters to lawmakers, drafts of bills, employment applications, and grievance materials. Law enforcement agencies in counties or municipalities would make decisions regarding the availability of 911 tapes.