On June 23, 2022, the OOR testified at a Senate State Government Committee hearing regarding legislation that would amend the Right-to-Know Law.
House Bill 2463, which will officially be assigned an act number soon, is now law.
This law requires the Office of Open Records to “publish guidelines for a Commonwealth agency specifying how the Commonwealth agency is required to respond to a request for records made during a disaster declaration when the Governor has ordered the Commonwealth agency to close the Commonwealth agency’s physical location.”
Those guidelines must be published “[n]o later than five days after the effective date of this section.”
The OOR plans to publish the guidelines on Friday, July 31.
Between now (Monday, July 27, at 9:30 a.m.) and Wednesday, July 29, at 1:00 p.m., the OOR is accepting public comment on the guidelines. Comments can be directed to the OOR via the contact page on our website or via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that all submitted comments will be public records.
Added on July 28, 2020: HB 2463 is now Act 77 of 2020.
The following is a statement from Erik Arneson, Executive Director of the Office of Open Records:
House Bill 2463 would require the Office of Open Records to “publish guidelines for a Commonwealth agency specifying how the Commonwealth agency is required to respond to a request for records made during a disaster declaration when the Governor has ordered the Commonwealth agency to close the Commonwealth agency’s physical location.”
If HB 2463 becomes law, any guidelines published by the OOR would protect the health and safety of agency employees.
Additionally, if HB 2463 becomes law, agencies would continue to be able to avail themselves of the existing exemptions in Section 708 of the Right-to-Know Law.
Finally, if HB 2463 becomes law, the OOR would be required to publish the guidelines described above within five days. The OOR is ready to meet that deadline.
Act 22 of 2017 (specifically, Chapter 67A of the Act) now governs the process of requesting audio and video recordings in the possession of law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania.
We’ve added a page to the Office of Open Records website which covers the topic in some detail (although it’s always a good idea to review the law itself). Here are some highlights.
Act 22 applies to “any audio recording or video recording made by a law enforcement agency” — the Right-to-Know Law does not apply to requests for those recordings.
Act 22 defines “law enforcement agency” as:
- The Office of the Attorney General;
- A District Attorney’s Office; or
- An agency that employs a law enforcement officer.
Requests for police recordings must:
- Be sent within 60 days of the recorded event;
- Be sent to the law enforcement agency’s Open Records Officer;
- Include the date and time of the event; and
- Include the requester’s relationship to the event.
In addition, if the recording was made inside a residence, the request must identify every person present (unless their identities are unknown and not reasonably ascertainable).
After receiving a request, the agency has 30 days to respond. A request may be denied if the recording includes:
- Potential evidence in a criminal matter; or
- Information pertaining to an investigation or a matter in which a criminal charge has been filed; or
- Confidential information; or
- Victim information; and
- Reasonable redaction will not safeguard the potential evidence or the information.
If a request is granted, the agency can charge “reasonable fees” (which is undefined in the law) for a copy of the recording.
If a request is denied, the requester has 30 days to file an appeal with the appropriate Court of Common Pleas. There’s a $125 filing fee, and the appeal must include:
- Copies of the request and any response(s);
- Proof the agency’s Open Records Officer was served with the appeal; and
- If the recording was made inside a residence, proof that everyone who was in the residence was served with the appeal (unless their identities are unknown and not reasonably ascertainable).
Act 22 does allow for the discretionary release of police recordings: Nothing in the law precludes a law enforcement agency or a prosecuting attorney with jurisdiction from choosing to release an audio or video recording, with or without a written request. (In certain cases, the law enforcement agency can only release the recording with the written permission of the prosecuting attorney.)
Senate Bill 413, introduced by Senator Rich Alloway, would extensively revise provisions related to the practice and procedure of Commonwealth agencies, establish the Office of Administrative Hearings, and extensively revise provisions on judicial review of Commonwealth agency action.
I provided this written testimony to the committee, emphasizing the unique nature of the Office of Open Records — that the vast majority of our cases involve people who are not represented by an attorney. As established in the Right-to-Know Law, the OOR’s appeal process was always intended to be simple, inexpensive, and relatively quick.