Opening Comments to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee

Open records_logo stackedEarlier today, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a report entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law.” The report was prepared pursuant to House Resolution 50 of the 2017-18 legislative session, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper.

I was invited to address the committee prior to the report’s release. Here are my opening comments:

Thank you, Mister Chairman, members of the committee, executive director. I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words.

The Right-to-Know Law is for the people. It gives the public the ability to review the actions of their government and to hold those in power accountable for their actions.

The Right-to-Know Law – as demonstrated by this committee’s study, as demonstrated by the Office of Open Records’ own study, as demonstrated by countless stories from all across our great Commonwealth – is working.

The public has far more access to the transactions and activities of government than ever before. That is, indisputably, a good thing.

Some say the Right-to-Know Law is a burden on agencies.

Transparency is not a burden. Transparency breeds trust. And for those of us privileged to hold government positions, transparency is a duty. It is – or should be – as fundamental as anything an agency does.

This is not to say the Right-to-Know Law can’t be improved. It can.

We should restructure the fee schedule for commercial requests. We should eliminate and scale back some of the exceptions. And this report contains several excellent recommendations. I look forward to working with members of this committee and others in the General Assembly on legislation to make improvements.

But the fundamental truth – a truth confirmed by the data in this report – is that the Right-to-Know Law is working for the people, as intended, and it is working very well indeed.

Thank you. I’m happy to answer any questions.

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Testimony on Senate Bill 411

This morning, the House State Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, held a public hearing on Senate Bill 411, which would amend the Right-to-Know Law.

I was honored to present testimony to the committee:

Others who testified or provided written testimony to the committee include:

  • ACLU of Pennsylvania
  • Bloomsburg University Foundation
  • Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access
  • Common Cause Pennsylvania
  • County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
  • East Stroudsburg University Foundation
  • Foundation for IUP
  • Lincoln University Parents Association
  • Lock Haven University Foundation
  • Pennsylvania Bar Association
  • Pennsylvania Foundations Association
  • Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association
  • Pennsylvania Prison Society
  • Pennsylvania School Boards Association
  • Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors
  • Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs
  • Pennsylvania State Education Association
  • Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
  • Simon Campbell, Citizen Requester
  • State-Related Universities (Temple, Pitt, Penn State, and Lincoln)
  • Thomson Reuters
  • West Chester University Foundation

House Appropriations Committee Testimony

Earlier this afternoon, I testified in front of the House Appropriations Committee regarding the Office of Open Records’ budget request for Fiscal Year 2015-16. Here’s the full text of my opening comments.

House Appropriations Committee
The Honorable William F. Adolph, Jr., Chair
February 22, 2016

Testimony of Erik Arneson
Executive Director, Office of Open Records
www.openrecords.pa.gov

Thank you, Chairman Adolph, Chairman Markosek, and members of the House Appropriations Committee. Good afternoon. It’s an honor to appear before this committee as Executive Director of the Office of Open Records. Chairman Adolph, on a personal note, I’m particularly pleased to have an opportunity to appear in front of you.

I have just a few comments, and then I’ll be very happy to answer any questions.

As I sit before you today, the Office of Open Records has decided nearly 14,000 appeals under the Right-to-Know Law. Last year, the OOR received a record number of appeals – 2,926. We have 10 attorneys who handle appeals. Do the math, and that’s an incredible caseload – nearly 300 appeals per attorney last year. And the OOR only has 30 days to decide each appeal, unless the requester grants us more time.

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