Critics say open records bill not open enough

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the Senate open records bill and its many weaknesses, in light of improvements we support:

Common Cause/Pennsylvania Executive Director Barry Kauffman called the bill that was approved yesterday “a tiny step forward, but it’s still inadequate.”

Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, one of the pay-raise protest groups, complained that senators largely “left themselves out” of the open records process, a charge denied by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester. Mr. Epstein contended that the number of records the Legislature would have to release is “less than that covered for the governor’s agencies and local
municipal agencies.”…

Critics complained the bill doesn’t list the Legislature itself as a “commonwealth agency.” Instead, the General Assembly would be a “legislative agency” and have a different standard for openness.

“It’s like they want to have different speed limits for different branches of government,” said Tim Potts of Democracy Rising Pa., who was an outspoken critic of the 2005 pay raise.

Mr. Pileggi said certain memos and correspondence from constituents and talks among legislators need to remain private in order to protect “the deliberative process” of the Legislature.

Mr. Kauffman complained that one item which wouldn’t be made public under the bill are legislators’ “WAMS,” meaning “walking around money,” or allotments of state funds for economic development, recreation or community revitalization purposes.

Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, yesterday tried to amend the bill so that legislative WAMs would have to be released, but the committee tabled his measure. He also tried to get the presumption of public access which applies to the executive branch records extended to cover the Legislature, but failed there also.

Also read Jan Murphy’s piece in the Patriot News:

But constituents’ communications with state lawmakers would remain off limits under terms of a Senate bill developed over six to seven months to revise the 50-year-old state open-records law.
And the bill’s broad definition of noncriminal investigations could sweep now-public documents under a shroud of secrecy.

Also, while all local government and executive branch records that do not fall into one of 28 exceptions would be presumed to be available for public inspection, the same would not be true for most legislative or judicial records.

The AP story is here.