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Proposed bill would limit private meeting circumstances in Pa.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 4:01 a.m.
 

A House State Government Committee hearing is set in Harrisburg on Wednesday for a bill requiring public discussion of some matters normally taken into executive sessions.

“It is sometimes necessary for a public body to meet in private to discuss certain matters, such as contract negotiations, employee disciplinary action or emergency response plans,” said state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, the primary sponsor of House Bill 1671. However, “the rules that govern when and how public entities can enter these private meetings are vague and open to abuse.”

HB 1671 would narrow instances when such sessions can be called and require audio recordings of such sessions — as well as of the advice the public body gets from its solicitor — so a judge can rule whether the sessions were proper.

“My goal is to make government as transparent as possible so that the people can have a better grasp on what their elected officials are doing,” Saccone said. “Furthermore, I hope to make it as difficult as possible for government to circumvent the rules.”

State Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, said he co-sponsored HB 1671 because of its provisions about personnel matters as well as issues he encounters as a member of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

“HB 1671 spells out that plans may be discussed and reviewed in executive session as they relate to security and emergency preparedness, including the physical security of buildings, staff training, communication procedures, plans for evacuation, lock-down or other safety measures, coordination with police, fire and other safety agencies,” Kortz said. “Disclosure of these plans could jeopardize safety so they can be kept confidential (but costs can) be discussed at an open meeting.”

The State Government Committee will convene on Wednesday at 9 a.m. The hearing will be streamed live at www.RepSaccone.com.

Saccone said he could not get a list of scheduled witnesses as of presstime.

“They would not release the list of testifiers until ... after the members are informed,” the Elizabeth Township Republican said.

Saccone introduced four other bills last year with an aim to reform a variety of public dealings:

• House Bill 1667 would ban any public official or employee from soliciting gifts or gratuities from anyone doing business or seeking to do business with the public figure's governing body.

• House Bill 1668 would clarify the definition of a public official.

• House Bill 1669 would ban gifts to public officials of more than $100 in transportation, lodging or hospitality in a 24-hour period.

• House Bill 1670 would raise maximum penalties for failure to file financial statements in a timely manner from $250 to $2,000.

All five were introduced and referred to the State Government Committee around Labor Day. None have seen action.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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