Pa. updates open records law

"State of Pennsylvania"

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"Not sitting still"

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker signed legislation June 29 to revise the

state's Right-to-Know Law, requiring that public records be made available

electronically.

Gov. Schweiker first called for such legislation last October during

an appearance before the Pennsylvania Press Club.

"This is a law that has not been updated for 50 years," said David La

Torre, a spokesman for the Governor's Office. The updated law makes it

clear that it is a responsibility of state and local government to furnish

records to the public.

The revised law also places reasonable deadlines on officials to fulfill

requests. The old law didn't establish deadlines for requested information,

La Torre said.

"The new law establishes needed deadlines as well as supplying information

in both paper and electronic mediums," he said.

The electronic information will not be available via a Web site, however.

Information will be sent from local government agencies to the public upon

request via e-mail or mail.

Pennsylvania's open records law has left people with few choices if

their request for information is denied. They can either drop the request

or appeal the decision in court and face costly legal bills.

The new law will implement a new appeals system that will not require

people to hire a lawyer. If a dispute does end up in court, Pennsylvanians

may win reimbursement of their court fees and attorney costs. The government

itself would face a fine if the court determines that the government willfully

disregarded its open-records obligations.

The revised law received a unanimous vote in the state Senate and a

199-1 vote in the state House. It will take effect in about 180 days.

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