Pennsylvania Reforms Open Records Law, Loses Distinction as Worst in the Country

Now that the Wikileaks storm has started to subside, it's time for us to catch up on some items that deserve attention (but haven't been getting it from the CMLP lately).

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed a bill that significantly reforms the state's open records law, previously regarded as one of the worst in the country.

The new law, which doesn't take effect until January 2009, reforms the state's Right-to-Know Law that was enacted in 1957. It took lawmakers 13 months to agree on a final version, which passed the state House of Representatives on February 11 and the state Senate the following day.

Under the new law, all records are presumed open, unless explicitly included on a list of exceptions. The law also shifts the burden to the government to prove why a record should remain private. Under the old version, the responsibility fell to citizens to show why they should be given information.

In addition, the legislation will establish a central state government office to set policies and deal with disputes about what should be released. Penalties will be stiffer for agencies that violate the law and they are required to respond faster to records requests.

Commentary on the bill has been lukewarm at best. "Is it a perfect bill? No. Is it a good bill? Absolutely. Is it a step on the road to reform? Without a doubt," Rendell is quoted as saying when he signed the legislation.

Compared to what Pennsylvanians have had to live with for more than half-a-century, this is a major accomplishment.

You can read the full text of the bill here.


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