Senate panel reviews Pa. open records law

    A Pennsylvania Senate committee is taking a closer look at the current open records law.

    Critics and government employees say Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, last amended in 2009, has led to an abundance of public information requests that bog down government agencies.

    One county open records officer says the bulk of the requests she logs aren’t from individuals or members of the press at all, but from businesses and prison inmates.

    Some of those requests border on harassment, said Regina Armitage of Bucks County.

    “One must consider that inmates have ample time on their hands, and when they receive a denial of records, an appeal gives them something to do,” she said. “Right now as the law is written, I am required to respond, no matter how outlandish, unreasonable, or burdensome the request may be.”

    Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, says that’s what he’d like to fix.

    “We can’t continue to inundate these agencies with for-profit companies from out of state, with prisoners’ requests that are just repetitive,” he said. “At the same time, there are some things that really should be broadened for the public’s access.”

    McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said that will mean broadening the access for individual citizens, and tightening access for commercial interests and what he calls “nuisance cases.”

    One of the proposed changes would allow government bodies to charge fees depending on the type of information request. Some civil liberties may object to that suggestion, which came from groups representing school boards and Pennsylvania news media, who say that’s the standard in other states as well as for federal Freedom of Information requests.

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