Pennsylvania Senate approves bill to extend the reach of the state Right-to-Know Law

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — A proposed tuneup of Pennsylvania's six-year-old Right-to-Know Law that would require greater disclosure by state-related universities and restrict prison inmates' access to public records, among other things, won a strong vote of approval Wednesday from the state Senate.

The legislation sponsored by Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, passed the Senate 50-0. It now moves to the House, where there are just six session days left before the Nov. 30 expiration of the legislative session.

If the bill becomes law, "it would open up more records than Pennsylvanians have seen in 200 years," said Terry Mutchler, director of the state Office of Open Records, who helped draft the law.

Pileggi said his bill seeks to improve the 2008 law "by building on what we've learned over the past six years, responding to decisions by the courts and the Office of Open Records, and with input from both those who request records and the agencies who respond to those requests."

The measure would not fully apply the open-records law to the state-related universities — Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln. But it would require them to reveal more budget information and make it available in user-friendly online databases containing extensive data about their finances and non-personal information about employees and students.

Access to public records would be restricted for prison inmates, whose appeals represent about 40 percent of the work at the state Office of Open Records, although they would retain access to personal records and those related to their incarceration. The bill also would allow any agency to voluntarily permit inmate access to records that would otherwise be off-limits.

The bill would establish a new fee structure for commercial requests filed under the Right-to-Know Law, such as those seeking lists of names and addresses for commercial solicitation or for sale. The fees would allow agencies to recoup the costs of fulfilling such requests.

The bill also would limit the filing of Right-to-Know requests to Pennsylvania residents.

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