Tweaks to Pa. ‘right-to-know’ law may result in fees for commercial requests

    The same lawmaker who sponsored legislation creating the 5-year-old Office of Open Records has drafted revisions to what’s called Pennsylvania’s “right-to-know law.”


    Local government officials have said for years the passage of the right-to-know law has resulted in a tidal wave of records requests.

    Many are coming from people out to make a buck, said Robin Getz, the North Cornwall Township manager in Lebanon County.

    “Township officials are currently serving as a quasi workforce for some of the businesses,” she said.

    A proposed change to the state’s open records law could mean businesses have to pay fees for record requests.The tweak has the full favor of Office of Open Records Director Terry Mutchler, who says it’s right to distinguish private citizens, researchers, and the press from commercial entities.

    “We see it with folks that come in and get tax records and sell them. We see it with folks that come in who have businesses and they want to know everybody that’s asked for building permits to build pools because they happen to sell pool liners,” Mutchler said. “I mean the list … (even) dog licenses, it goes on and on.”

    Mutchler admits those who file requests may be able to duck the fees by filing as private citizens, but adds there’s no perfect fix.

    The proposal would leave setting the fees up to agencies receiving the record requests.

    But Mutchler has questions about a call to allow agencies to ask for court protection when they deem records request to be “unduly burdensome.”

    “I can tell you in the strongest possible terms, you’re going to have every level of government saying that every request that comes to them is unduly burdensome under this language,” she said Monday. “You’re going to bypass what I believe is a very effective office in terms of making these determinations.”

    Mutchler is also skeptical of language that would keep her office from making public comments on pending record requests and related proceedings.

    The spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who drafted the proposal, says such a provision is a common restriction for judges, and the Office of Open Records is a quasi-judicial agency.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal