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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Pennsylvania, Secrecy Prevails...Again?

In a sharp turnaround, two public access advocacy groups are calling for the defeat of an open records bill headed for a House floor vote.

Officials with Pennsylvania Common Cause and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association withdrew their support for the bill after the House State Government Committee substantially rewrote it during a three-hour meeting Wednesday night. They say the bill should either be sent back to the committee for a cleanup or voted down on the floor.

“This bill is a mess,” said Common Cause Director Barry Kauffman. He said the measure’s preamble declaring the importance of a free flow of information between government and its citizens is undermined by other provisions spelling out exemptions and procedures designed to keep documents ranging from letters to e-mails under wraps.

The exemptions in the measure are so broadly defined that an exchange of letters between a lawmaker and cabinet secretary on a policy issue could be kept off-limits to public eyes, said PNA lobbyist Deborah Musselman.

Their sour assessment of the bill is at odds with a hopeful note struck by a coalition of public access groups early in the week. At their press conference, ranking lawmakers outlined progress on the issue of making government records more accessible to the public. Faced with a wealth of proposals to reform state government in the wake of the controversial 2005 pay raise, House and Senate leaders have said strengthening the existing open records law is their top priority this fall.

The House bill still includes a widely agreed-on presumption that records should be considered public unless stipulated otherwise and puts the burden of proof on an agency or government as to why a record shouldn’t be made public. The dispute is over a 20-page “omnibus” amendment to the bill introduced by Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, the House panel chairwoman.

More here.

1 comment:

passopenrecords said...

For more info on open records "reform efforts," visit the PNA's blog at www.passopenrecords.org p