Open Records

Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon August 18, 2014

State Open Records Chief Says E-mail a Blind Spot in PA Transparency Laws

The head of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records says state transparency laws are out of step with modern communication technology and are long overdue for an update.

The call to action comes after Gov. Tom Corbett shared his own technique for evading certain record requests from the public.

Corbett recently told reporters that he tries to avoid using e-mail, and deletes his e-mails about once a week. Otherwise, he said, reporters would be able to see e-mails requested under the state's Right-to-Know law.

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Open Records
3:45 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Open Records Law for State-Related Universities Step Closer to Passage

A lot more information about Pennsylvania’s state-related universities could be revealed soon.

The Senate State Government Committee unanimously approved legislation to expand Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law to the state-owned universities.

Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University are mostly exempt from the Open Records Law, which calls for transparency of finances and other information to the public.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:24 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

The Impact of the Open Records Law, Five Years Later

Five years ago Pennsylvania's Open Records law was changed to increase transparency of government agencies.
Credit Jenni C / Flickr

Five years ago Pennsylvania's Open Records law was changed, with the promise of ensuring more information would be made more easily available to the public. The new law is generally seen as a positive for the Commonwealth, but open records officials and some people who use the law see room for improvement.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, Rich Lord, says, “When the new law took effect in the beginning of 2009, there was an opening up, there was a feeling in agencies that, 'hey now the presumption is that I've got to give it over, so I may as well give it over' that has gradually shifted over the last five years. Agencies have been looking, I think, or at least focusing less on that presumption of openness than on the 30 exemptions in the law. Agencies have appeared to view the law in recent years as a tool for coming up with reasons not to disclose rather than a requirement to disclose or an encouragement to disclose."

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Five Years After A Major Change, How Open Is Pennsylvania's Open Records Law?

It's been five years since a major shift in the way the commonwealth makes public documents available. But how much of a difference has the change made?
Credit Flickr user All Those Details

Five years ago, Pennsylvania’s open records law was changed with the promise of ensuring more information would be more easily available to the public.

Records requests have gone up, and the new law is seen, overall, as a positive for the commonwealth, but open records officials and some people who use the law see room for improvement. 

Before the change in the open records law, all records were presumed closed unless the requester could prove why they should be open. Now, with the new law, all records are presumed open unless the requestee can prove otherwise. This has resulted in a spike in requests from across the commonwealth.

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Technology & City Data
3:34 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Steel City Codefest Shows the Potential for Open Data

Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/weinakademieberlin/5417420791/

Pittsburgh's second Steel City Codefest is almost here. The second annual 24-hour technology competition aims to create relevant and useful apps for the Pittsburgh area.

One of last year's winning teams created an app called ParkIt, which would allow users to pay for parking meters using their phone. The app would also remind users when their meter is about to expire and allow them to refill it.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:05 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

Right to Know Law Could Be Less Important with #OpenPgh

Steel City Codefest is challenging developers to create apps for street cleaning, trash pickup, even ways to top-up parking while away from the meter, using open data.
Credit jacob caddy / flickr

Pittsburgh plans to join 19 other American cities and counties in releasing city data for public use online. As the city works out the details of how this initiative will take shape, they’re looking for public input.

Debra Lam, Mayor Peduto's pick for Chief of Innovation & Performance and Laura Meixell, data and analytics manager for the City of Pittsburgh, say the initial ordinance brought to city council last month is meant to change the perceptions of how Pittsburghers think about data and city disclosure of information.

“It sets the default to open.” Laura Meixell explains, “There’s a whole variety of state laws around what information is public and what isn’t, in the PA Right to Know law. And here in the city we’ve been following those rules since that legislation was enacted, but much more on the basis of, if folks asked for information we would provide it. With this [open data] legislation we’re going to  have the chance to go ahead and be proactive, to open things up and to make things more available and useful in the short term.”

City organizations have encouraged the software community to creatively use municipal data, even before the introduction of this legislation, through Steel City Codefest.

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Government & Politics
5:37 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

PA's State-Related Universities Defend Open Records Status

Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities are arguing they should continue to receive special treatment under the commonwealth’s open records law.

State lawmakers are working on an update to the government transparency law last revised in 2008, which largely exempts Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.

Valerie Harrison, general counsel for Lincoln University, says additional oversight would be cumbersome.

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Government & Politics
7:38 am
Wed July 3, 2013

Lawmakers Urge Open Records Reforms for State-Related Universities

Pennsylvania's state-related universities have received mostly flat funding from the commonwealth for the second year running. With the struggle for their state aid long settled, some lawmakers are noting a tangential issue has been overshadowed: the level of transparency at the schools.

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Open Records
9:26 pm
Mon May 27, 2013

State-Related Universities Raise Concerns Over Transparency Proposals

One key question at the heart of a push for more transparency at Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities may keep legislative proposals in park for some time.

Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln are all largely exempt from the state’s open records law, while Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities are held to the standard.

Proposals to get rid of the exemption have been proposed in the House and Senate. The universities have raised concerns or outright opposition to the plans.

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State Government
6:01 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

Open Records Chief Calls Charter Schools Scofflaws

The head of the state's Office of Open Records is pointing a finger at public charter schools for being the "cancer" of the state's Right-to-Know law.

The testimony comes as lawmakers are in the midst of an effort to tweak the state's five-year-old law, which lets citizens request government records starting with the presumption that all such documents are public, putting the burden of proof on agencies, not citizens.

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State Government
6:34 am
Tue May 14, 2013

In Open Records Debate, a Case for Being Less Business-Friendly

The same senator who sponsored legislation creating the 5-year-old Office of Open Records has drafted revisions to the state's Right-to-Know law - the "most critical" proposed change being one that would keep commercial users from exploiting the law on the cheap.

Local government officials have said for years the passage of the Right-to-Know law has resulted in a tidal wave of records requests.

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