The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

July 24, 2012

Senator: Let sun shine in on PSU

HARRISBURG — A state Senate bill that would end the Pennsylvania State University’s exemption from the state’s Right to Know laws is sitting in committee and may not come up for vote before the November elections, Senate staffers said.

In January, state Sen. John Blake, a Democrat who serves Lackawanna and parts of Luzurne and Monroe counties, introduced Senate Bill 1377, which seeks to amend the Right to Know Law and repeal the provisions that apply to what’s called state-related institutions.

“There is general recognition that we need to revisit this issue” of reporting and exemption, said Luc Miron, Blake’s chief of staff. “I think the general assembly didn’t want to do it as a knee-jerk, impulsive reaction to (the Jerry Sandusky investigation) so it doesn’t look like it’s retribution for that, as opposed to more informed reporting.”

SB 1377 has about 19 co-sponsors and significant bipartisan support. However, “there are only so many days this fall,” Miron said, “and the entire House and half the Senate is up (for election). I don’t know how it would get on the agenda, but I know it’s on everyone’s minds.”

Penn State is one of these institutions, the others being the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University. Classified as such, these schools are exempt from open-records laws despite receiving about a half-billion dollars collectively in taxpayer funds each year.

These schools are not legally bound to respond to open-records requests, including campus police reports, email, phone records, calendars and memos.

Other schools and state agencies must comply with Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, established in 2008. A repeal would bring Penn State and the others under same standing as the other schools and agencies, known as state-affiliated government entities. Examples are the state Fish and Boat Commission and the Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“What the senator’s legislation would do is bring (these schools) completely under sunlight the way the other agencies are, the way everyone is subject to the act,” Miron said.

SB 1377 was referred to the Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Charles McIllhenny, a Republican representing Bucks and Montgomery counties. This committee oversees amendments to Pennsylvania laws.

Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican whose district includes Centre County, home of Penn State, as well as part of Union County, also sits on the committee. Corman did not respond by deadline Monday to a request for comment on the legislation.

Politics are not keeping the bill from moving forward. However, Miron said the Senate likely is taking a more cautionary approach.

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican who represents Chester and Delaware counties, sets the legislative agenda. Pileggi introduced his own bill, SB 247, in January 2011 that seeks to amend the Open Records Act to create rules for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

That would include allowing redaction of any agency’s banking information and adjusting the time periods allowed for public agencies to respond to Right to Know requests, based on how the requests are submitted.

Todd Roup, press secretary for state Sen. John Gordner, R-27, said in a statement that SB 247 will be amended in the fall “to include police forces at state-related institutions, just as with any other police force with arrest powers.” Gordner supports this effort and expects the legislation to pass in the fall session, Roup said.

Pennsylvania is one of three states — the others are Alaska and Delaware — that exempt their state universities from the Right to Know Law, according to Sunshine Review.org, a government transparency website.

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