2022 AORO Survey Data

Over the summer, we conducted a survey of Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs) to get a sense of the volume and complexity of the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) requests they’ve received in 2021 and 2020. We received responses from 983 AOROs across the state.

As in recent years, roughly a third of agencies report receiving more than 20 RTKL requests a year. The biggest change compared to previous years is the average number of hours per week that the agency spends on RTKL requests. In 2021, a majority (41 percent) of AOROs estimated that their agency spent more than two hours a week on RKTL requests; in 2019, just 20 percent said the same.

The complete results are below.

Transparency Zone: August 2022

Many records related to a Hepatitis A outbreak at a restaurant are protected under the Disease Prevention and Control Law. 2022-1414

If records are presented to a quorum of a board, an agency may not withhold the records by claiming they reflect internal, predecisional deliberations.  2022-0923

A request for county records related to the 2020 election must be granted because the agency provided no evidence to support why various exemptions it cited should be applied. 2022-1542

Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act prohibits the release of records related to the purchase of a firearm or application for a license to carry a firearm. 2022-1249

Transparency Zone, July 2022

Here are some final determinations of note from July of 2022.

If a requester is unable to access or print public records available on a website, the agency must print and provide them. 2022-1552

Agency bank account numbers do not constitute exempt personal identification information and agencies cannot redact them on that basis. 2022-1227

Proposal bid documents prior to the awarding of a contract are exempt from the RTKL. 2022-1037

In an otherwise public record, students’ faces in a video taken at a school may be blurred to protect privacy2022-1009

New Process for Appeals!

Might you be involved in a RTKL appeal? If so, we have important news to share.

Here’s the headline:

Beginning August 1, 2022, all appeals involving Commonwealth agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction, with a few exceptions, will be processed through the E-File Appeal Portal.  This is the first of three phases as we move ALL appeals to this new system. The OOR E-File Appeal Portal User Guide can be found here, and OOR staff will be prepared to answer questions as users navigate the new process.  

Below are the details, including what to expect next.

The OOR is moving forward with our E-File Appeal Portal, with the goal of having all Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) appeals processed through the portal by spring of 2023. An early testing phase was conducted with most Commonwealth agencies and, after using the system for several months and making improvements based on what was learned, the OOR is ready to expand the usage to more Commonwealth and local agencies. 

The transition to universal use of the E-file Appeal Portal will occur through a three-phase process for the purpose of exposing all agencies, from the largest Commonwealth agency to the smallest local agency, to the E-File Appeal Portal system and having all users gain a proficiency in using the system.

Phase 1:  Beginning August 1, 2022, all appeals involving Commonwealth agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction, with a few exceptions, will be processed through the E-File Appeal Portal. 

Phase 2: Currently scheduled to begin in October 2022, in Phase 2, local agencies will be chosen at random though a yet to be established interval, i.e. every third appeal received.  In this phase, the OOR will not seek permission from the parties prior to assigning the appeal to the E-File Appeal Portal.  Advanced notice of Phase 2’s start date will be widely publicized and is likely to come in mid-September.

Phase 3: The final phase will consist of a firm date when all appeals will be assigned to and processed through the E-File Appeal Portal, subject to limited exceptions such as, individuals without email access.  The beginning date is anticipated to be the spring of 2023.  A firm date for Phase 3 will be provided in early 2023.

You may want to refer to the OOR E-File Appeal Portal User Guide.  Please review it with your relevant staff and stakeholders.  The User Guide will be available on the OOR’s website.  In addition, more information will be provided during the OOR’s Annual Training. OOR staff will be available for questions, resolve any user problems, and receive feedback.  We are looking forward to working with all of you towards the goal of establishing the E-File Appeal Portal as a speedier and more efficient system for processing RTKL appeals for the Commonwealth.

Transparency Zone, May 2022 Edition

A review of some interesting final determinations from the past month.

Requesting all records from an agency will most likely be denied as insufficiently specific request. 2022-0711

After denying a request, an agency may change course and provide records after an appeal is filed.  2022-1032

An agency must prove a record is protected by the Copyright Act, and not just cite the act. 2022-1011

While you may file a RTKL request to seek election records, access to those records is governed by the Election Code. 2022-0453

Attention Open Records Officers

Good afternoon, happy Monday.

This morning, we sent all agency open records officers registered with our office a link to a survey.

We hope that all recipients take some time–less than five minutes–to answer the questions. They ask basic information regarding your agency’s experiences with Right-to-Know requests, helping inform the OOR and policy makers.

We’ll publish the results in early July.

Thank you.

Transparency Zone, April 2022 Edition

Some interesting final determinations from April of 2022.

Some records are explicitly exempt under individual laws:

The Local Taxpayer Bill of Rights exempts records that contain any information arising from tax investigations or audits, including records pertaining to the date on which an audit was commenced, since that would require the agency to reveal that it is collecting taxes from specific companies and initiating audits thereof. 2022-0595

The Insurance Department Act exempts from the RTKL records obtained during the Department of Insurance’s investigations into suspected insurance fraud and unfair trade practices. 2022-0547

The Unemployment Compensation Law states that records related to unemployment are confidential and exempt from the RTKL; the RTKL itself also contains a provision exempting a wide range of UC claimant information. 022-0677

Asking for any records that include your name may be an insufficiently specific request. 2022-0771

Most student records are protected, even when they pertain to your own children.  However, parents might have a separate right to access under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).  2022-0708

The home addresses on elected officials’ Statement of Financial Interest may not be redacted. 2022-0862

The Transparency Zone, March 2022 Edition

Today we are unveiling a new monthly feature in our blog: 

The Transparency Zone

Each month, we will list final determinations of that are of interest, either for their topic or the RTKL nuance highlighted. While not all of them can be about finding buried gold or the secret location of a kangaroo, the OOR consistently explores thought-provoking issues and concepts.

Even your own medical records are exempt from disclosure. (2022-0609)

Anonymous requesters may be outright denied under the RTKL. (2022-0355)

Agency did not prove that surveillance video footage would reveal identify of medical marijuana patients. (2022-0103)

A high school football coach’s playbook is not a record of the school district. (2022-0378)

A requester may appeal the properness of redactions. (2021-2729)

Since a police report regarding a complaint about a neighbor’s wind chime is part of a noncriminal complaint, it is a protected record. (2022-0367)

The hold music audio file used in a local government’s telephone system is not a record of the agency. (2022-0248)

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2021 Annual Report

The Office of Open Records is proud to present its 2021 Annual Report.

Read it here.

Highlights from this year’s Annual Report include:

  • 2,990 appeals were filed with the Office of Open Records in 2021, the busiest year ever.
  • Of those, 2,384 appeals involved local agencies; 549 involved state agencies.
  • Issued 2,913 decisions, the highest number ever and a 35% increase in five years.
  • Top 10 issues most raised on appeal and addressed by OOR.
  • 10 examples of records accessed via the RTKL.
  • Top OOR accomplishments in 2021.
  • 90 mediations to resolve appeals and 75 training sessions conducted across the state.