Senate Bill 411 Approved by Senate

Senate Bill 411 (sponsored by Senator Dominic Pileggi), which would amend Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), was approved unanimously by the state Senate yesterday.

Among the changes SB 411 would make:

  • Dramatically increase the amount of financial and statistical information available from the four state-related universities (Temple, Penn State, Pitt, and Lincoln) by requiring these universities to establish freely accessible online databases. (This provision is based on Senate Bill 412, sponsored by Senator John Blake.)
  • Apply the RTKL to campus police departments with arrest powers the same as it applies to municipal police departments.
  • Establish that the noncriminal investigative exception does not apply to final safety inspection reports.
  • Simplify the request process by allowing requests to be sent to the AORO or to the agency’s administrative office.
  • Simplify the process of filing an appeal with the OOR.
  • Allow agencies to use a different fee schedule for commercial requests and allow those fees to be appealed to the OOR to ensure they’re reasonable.
  • Establish 11 categories of records available to inmates, ensuring they can access information related to their case and incarceration but limiting the burden inmate requests have placed on agencies and the OOR.
  • Define the term “time response log” to clarify what information related to emergency dispatches is available for public inspection.
  • Clarify that records presented to a quorum for deliberation at a public meeting which are not otherwise exempt are public records, regardless of whether a vote occurs at the meeting.
  • Clarify that economic development authorities and industrial development authorities are covered by the RTKL.
  • Clarify that volunteer fire companies and volunteer ambulance companies are not covered by the RTKL except to the extent that they have a contract with a local agency.
  • Prevent parties to litigation from using the RTKL to circumvent the discovery process, when the litigation involves a pending civil action to which the agency is a party.
  • Establish additional protections on personal financial information while continuing to make aggregated data available for public inspection.
  • Attempt to address the issues surrounding home addresses of agency employees, also the subject of ongoing litigation now before the state Supreme Court.
  • Require agencies to register their Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs) with the Office of Open Records (OOR), which makes a statewide database of AOROs available on its website.
  • Allow the OOR to extend the timeline for issuing a final determination when cases are particularly complex or require in camera review of documents.
  • Additional procedural improvements in the OOR appeals process.

As I told Kate Giammarise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, SB 411 will improve the Right-to-Know Law for both requesters and agencies. There are some legitimate concerns about a few provisions, but I believe those concerns can be addressed as the bill progresses.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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