State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

As House eyes transparency law changes, agency chief urges caution

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 17, 2013 9:39 PM
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Photo by G.R. Wilson

The head of the state's open records agency is urging lawmakers to proceed with caution as they propose changes to the measure that created the office.

The five-year-old Right-to-Know law could be in for some considerable tweaks. An effort is already underway in the Senate to address well-documented problems with the law, which governs public access to government information and records.

Office of Open Records Director Terry Mutchler said she's concerned the approach taken by the House could compromise Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law in the spirit of improving it.

"You've created a very good law," Mutchler said before the House State Government Committee Wednesday. "Yes, there are areas that need to be fixed, and we share that view, but I also think that we have to remember that we don't want to roll the clock back and put Pennsylvania back to when it was in the bottom of the barrel. And we want to take advantage of making sure that we refine this without gutting it."

The complaints about the Right-to-Know Law are legion. Local governments talk of small staffs overburdened with record requests. Judges and police say the queries from prison inmates rise to the level of harassment. But Mutchler said she is concerned the House's approach to tweaking the open records law will be regressive.

"While the intent is good, I have some concerns with the results," she said, after the hearing. "For example, there's a bill that would absolutely just flat out restrict an inmate's use of obtaining information."

The bill, proposed by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon), would deny all records requests submitted by inmates of federal, state, or county prisons. Mutchler said it probably wouldn't stand up to a constitutional challenge.

House lawmakers have proposed at least 10 measures to change the open records law. Mutchler called it a "buckshot" approach, as compared to the Senate, which is working on one omnibus piece of revising legislation.

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