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Open records official believes law will expand to include Pitt, PSU

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 4:45 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The director of the state open records office predicted on Monday that the Legislature will enact legislation this fall requiring open records at Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln.

There are three basic ways the Right-to-Know law could be reshaped, but Terry Mutchler made no predictions.

Speaking to the Pennsylvania Press Club, Mutchler said the law could cover the universities “outright”; cover the police departments of state-related universities; or designate accountability for state tax dollars spent at universities, on a “dollar-for-dollar” basis.

The issue of exempting state-related universities while including state-owned universities such as Slippery Rock, California, Shippensburg and Indiana University of Pennsylvania is a longstanding issue. It came to a head with the arrest of child sex predator Jerry Sandusky in November 2011 as national media learned few records at Penn State were open.

Penn State gets more than $285 million in annual state funding, a fraction of its $4.4 billion budget.

A jury convicted Sandusky, a former football coach, last year on 45 of 48 counts of molesting young boys. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

“I believe (opening records) will happen,” Mutchler said. “I believe it will happen this fall.”

The Legislature returns from recess in September.

Mutchler said her office takes the position, “There should be accountability where state money is involved.”

But in issuing decisions, she said, her office must follow the law.

A Commonwealth Court decision last week held that records requested by a Penn State alumnus should be released. The records, including emails, of former Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis were related to the Sandusky case. Tomalis was an ex-officio board member.

Mutchler's office dismissed the case, saying it did not have jurisdiction because the university isn't covered under the law.

Following revelations about Sandusky, lawmakers called for opening state-related schools' records. Since then, the legislation stalled.

“I'm grateful the Legislature took its time with deciding this question,” Mutchler said. “It has to be done right.”

Lawmakers are contemplating other changes, but Mutchler warned against changing too much.

“It's a strong law. We don't want to gut it. We want to improve it,” she said. “At best, it needs a shave and haircut — not cosmetic surgery.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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