Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), the architect of Pennsylvania’s new Open Records Law, said that a funding increase for the Office of Open Records included in the state budget will help ensure that the law continues to be effective in giving citizens access to government records.
“Creating an independent Office of Open Records was one of the new law’s greatest achievements,” Senator Pileggi said. “But having the office exist means nothing if it doesn’t have the resources needed to carry out its function.”
The state budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 increases funding for the office by 22.6 percent, an increase of $310,000 which takes total funding to $1.68 million.
Terry Mutchler, Executive Director of the Office of Open Records, said the new funding will allow the office to “meet our ever-bourgeoning caseload by immediately moving to hire additional staff.”
The Office of Open Records currently has just 12 staff – including eight attorneys to resolve appeals – to meet the demands of the new Right-to-Know Law, Act 3 of 2008. In 2012, the office received a record high of nearly 2,200 appeals from citizens who were denied access to records.
The caseload has increased every year the office has existed: 1,159 appeals were filed in 2009, a number which grew to 1,228 in 2010 and 1,772 in 2011 before reaching 2,188 last year.
“Looking at those numbers, it’s absolutely clear the office needed additional funding,” Senator Pileggi said. “As lawmakers, we can’t profess a commitment to open government and then under-fund the Office of Open Records. Finding these new funds, especially in a very difficult budget year, is a true reflection of the General Assembly’s and the Governor’s commitment to transparency.”
“Senator Pileggi wrote a strong, aggressive open-government law that has opened the filing cabinet on hundreds of thousands of public records,” Mutchler said. “In this budget, he continued to protect the public's right to know by working to increase funding for the Office of Open Records.”
Senator Pileggi said he continues to work on Senate Bill 444, which contains amendments designed to improve to the law. The Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Senator Lloyd Smucker (R-13), held a public hearing on SB 444 in May. A second hearing is expected to take place in September before the committee takes action on the bill.
“This bill is designed to address many of the issues that have emerged since the new law was enacted five years ago,” Senator Pileggi said. “The public hearing in May was tremendously helpful, and I know the same will be true of the next hearing. I thank Senator Smucker for his personal interest in this issue and for his help in strengthening this law.”
Senator Pileggi encouraged anyone interested in commenting on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know to contact him via email or on Twitter.