A recent state court ruling could force the four state-related universities to abide by Pennsylvania’s government transparency law.
Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln universities are largely exempt from the open records law.
Due to the exemption, the Office of Open Records dismissed an appealed request for records at Penn State.
However, a state court overturned that ruling last week.
The office’s director Terry Mutchler says she’s heartened by the decision.
“My feeling on it is, we welcome the guidance.” said Mutchler. “I mean, any time that we are overturned and more access is given, I’m happy about that.”
Difficulty mapping out the Right-to-Know law
Deciding how to bring the partially state-funded schools under the Right-to-Know law is tricky. There’s an active debate about whether to make the schools comply with all open records requests, or somehow connect requests to the state funding they actually receive.
Forcing the issue is the court ruling that yanks the office back on the case of a records request filed to Penn State.
Mutchler’s agency dismissed an appeal of the request, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction to decide the matter, since the school wasn’t subject to the Right-to-Know law.
Mutchler says there’s a big challenge to bringing the four state-related universities under the transparency law. “If you cover Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and Pitt — there are a lot of other entities in the commonwealth – private entities – that receive state money,” said Mutchler, “and how do you rope them in?”
Looking towards a fall ruling
Mutchler says regardless of the court ruling forcing the issue, she thinks the Legislature will take action soon to bring the state-related universities under the Right-to-Know law.
“I believe that it will happen,” said Mutchler. “I believe that it will happen in the fall. Whether it’s going to be an outright coverage – I don’t know the answer to that.”