Twitter Thread: RTKL Procedural Issues

Here’s a Twitter thread I posted recently exploring some common procedural issues which arise under the Right-to-Know Law.

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Presentation to Committee of Seventy Interns

Earlier this week, a group of interns from the Committee of Seventy visited the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg to discuss the Right-to-Know Law and the OOR.

It was a great discussion, and I very much appreciate them visiting. Here’s the presentation I used to help frame the discussion:

Committee of Seventy Interns – July 31, 2018 (PPTX)
Committee of Seventy Interns – July 31, 2018 (PDF)

Presentation to CCAP Solicitors’ Conference

Earlier today, I took part in a discussion about the Right-to-Know Law at the 2018 CCAP Solicitors’ Conference in Harrisburg.

Other participants included attorneys Craig J. Staudenmaier and J. Stephen Feinour from Nauman Smith. The panel was moderated by J. Chadwick Schnee, Berks County’s First Assistant Solicitor.

It was a great discussion, and I very much appreciate the invitation.

The discussion covered a fairly wide variety of topics, but the presentation I prepared focused on the Office of Open Records’ survey of Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs) and the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee’s separate survey of AOROs:

CCAP Solicitors’ Conference – May 4, 2018 – PPTX
CCAP Solicitors’ Conference – May 4, 2018 – PDF

LBFC Report: Recommendations

Open records_logo stackedThe report released today by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law” includes eight recommendations, four for the General Assembly and four for the OOR.

I support all eight recommendations (one, as noted below, with some reservations). In more detail:

LBFC Recommendations for the General Assembly

Recommendation: Require agencies to provide AORO contact information to include name, telephone number, email address, and physical address to the OOR annually or whenever there is a change in the information.

Response: The OOR currently collects this information on a very informal basis. However, a statutory mandate for agencies to provide AORO contact information to the OOR, combined with technological improvements already in development (i.e., an online AORO database), would allow us to proceed in a far more efficient manner.

Recommendation: Require agencies to prominently post required RTKL information on their websites and specifically define AORO contact information to include the name, telephone number, email address, and physical address of the AORO.

Response: Like LBFC, the OOR has found that it can sometimes be difficult or impossible to locate AORO information on an agency website. In addition to supporting a new statutory requirement that the information be “prominently” posted, the OOR will continue to emphasize this as a best practice in our training.

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LBFC Report: Highlights

Open records_logo stackedHere are highlights from the report released today by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law.”

The report found that “most of Pennsylvania’s state and local government agencies receive few RTKL requests, most of the requests are easily fulfilled at a relatively low cost, and only a small percentage of the requests are appealed.”

Annual Costs to Agencies

  • Almost 54 percent of agencies reported an annual cost of $500 or less to comply with the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL).
  • About 92 percent of agencies reported an annual cost of $10,000 or less.
  • The total cost of responding to RTKL requests by all agencies in 2016 is estimated at $5.7 million to $9.7 million. With more than 6,000 agencies across the state, that’s an average cost of just $950 to $1,617 per agency.

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Opening Comments to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee

Open records_logo stackedEarlier today, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a report entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law.” The report was prepared pursuant to House Resolution 50 of the 2017-18 legislative session, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper.

I was invited to address the committee prior to the report’s release. Here are my opening comments:

Thank you, Mister Chairman, members of the committee, executive director. I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words.

The Right-to-Know Law is for the people. It gives the public the ability to review the actions of their government and to hold those in power accountable for their actions.

The Right-to-Know Law – as demonstrated by this committee’s study, as demonstrated by the Office of Open Records’ own study, as demonstrated by countless stories from all across our great Commonwealth – is working.

The public has far more access to the transactions and activities of government than ever before. That is, indisputably, a good thing.

Some say the Right-to-Know Law is a burden on agencies.

Transparency is not a burden. Transparency breeds trust. And for those of us privileged to hold government positions, transparency is a duty. It is – or should be – as fundamental as anything an agency does.

This is not to say the Right-to-Know Law can’t be improved. It can.

We should restructure the fee schedule for commercial requests. We should eliminate and scale back some of the exceptions. And this report contains several excellent recommendations. I look forward to working with members of this committee and others in the General Assembly on legislation to make improvements.

But the fundamental truth – a truth confirmed by the data in this report – is that the Right-to-Know Law is working for the people, as intended, and it is working very well indeed.

Thank you. I’m happy to answer any questions.