The measure makes sweeping changes to the state's Right-to-Know Law, which was enacted in 1957. It took lawmakers 13 months to agree on a version to send to the governor as they argued over how much information to conceal from average citizens and journalists.
"Is it a perfect bill? No. Is it a good bill? Absolutely. Is it a step on the road to reform? Without a doubt," said Rendell, who signed the bill at a Capitol news conference, surrounded by Democratic and Republican legislators.
The new law, which takes effect in January, will force agencies to disclose all records beyond a list of exceptions, rather than the old law's narrow list of public records available.
Agencies also will be required to justify any decisions to keep records secret. The old law put the legal burden on citizens to prove why a record must be disclosed.
Revising the law became a cornerstone of the Legislature's reform agenda after two dozen lawmakers were voted out in the wake of the 2005 pay raise debacle. The raise, which the General Assembly passed hastily in the middle of one summer night, was later repealed.
"It's something I think that will pay dividends for years to come in the interaction between citizens and their government, and I think further affirms the commitment we've made ... to an open and transparent process, which would necessarily help citizens regain confidence in their government," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, the bill's prime sponsor.
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