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Friday, October 19, 2007

Bad News From PA...

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 19, 2007 -- The Pennsylvania House of
Representatives is poised to vote on legislation that would reform
Pennsylvania's open records law. Unfortunately, the legislation, as
amended, would actually result in less access to Pennsylvania

"Although legislators and other state leaders have voiced their
commitment to open records reform, House Bill 443, as amended, would be
a significant step in the wrong direction," said Tim Williams, PNA
president. "The PNA opposes this legislation, but remains hopeful that
Senate Bill 1, the open records reform bill in the Senate, will lead to
meaningful reform and will make Pennsylvania government more open and
accountable to its citizens."

It is widely recognized that Pennsylvania has one of the worst open
records laws in the country. A 2002 survey by the Better Government
Association ranked Pennsylvania's open records environment 48th out of
the 50 states. The Commonwealth tied with Alaska, and only Alabama and
South Dakota were considered worse.

Since last year, however, there has been a growing chorus in support of
reform. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) has made
open records reform a priority, as have Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny),
Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fayette) and Gov. Ed Rendell.

To that end, three lawmakers have introduced bills to change the open
records law. In the Senate, Majority Leader Pileggi is the sponsor of
Senate Bill 1 and Sen. Ferlo has offered Senate Bill 765. Rep. Mahoney
is sponsoring House Bill 443.

"As originally introduced, House Bill 443 contained a number of
provisions that the PNA supported," explained Williams. "As amended,
however, it would mean a real step backward for Pennsylvania citizens.
The amendment contains numerous, unprecedented exemptions, including
broad exemptions for 'correspondence' and all 'e-mail.' As written, the
proposal would provide for less access than we have today."

"Just as problematic is the process used by the House to rush this bill
to a vote. The amendment was presented at the last minute, and the
stakeholders were not given a chance to participate," Williams
continued. "If this is reform, we don't want it."

PNA believes Pennsylvania's open records law must be amended to create a
presumption of access to agency records. The burden must be on the
government agency seeking to deny access. Just as importantly, any
exemptions to access must be clearly and narrowly written to protect
only those records that need to be protected. These would include
individual medical records, records that would disclose ongoing police
investigations, and homeland security related documents.

The PNA urges citizens to contact their legislators and tell them to
vote "no" on House Bill 443. The public has a right to access its
government. This bill closes more records than it opens and is not in
the best interest of Pennsylvania citizens.

The PNA, founded in 1925, is a nonprofit, trade association. Its mission
is to advance the interests of Pennsylvania newspapers, promote the
importance of a free and independent press and provide a forum for
critical and innovative thinking about the future of journalism and the
newspaper industry.

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