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State legislators propose hearings on PSU reforms to prod university to act

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:54 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Saying proposed changes at Penn State University have stalled, Senate Democrats on Wednesday suggested hearings this summer to speed consideration of reform legislation.

Proposals to modify Penn State's board of trustees and bring it fully under provisions of the state's Right-to-Know Law emerged during the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal 19 months ago. Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was sentenced in October to more than 30 years in prison for molesting 10 boys, incidents that shamed the university.

Sens. John Yudichak of Luzerne County, Andy Dinniman of Chester County and Rob Teplitz of Dauphin County urged Republican lawmakers and the university to work with them to enact significant changes.

“Penn State supports full accountability to the commonwealth and public for appropriated funds that support its educational mission,” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. “We know this issue will be the subject of ongoing discussions by legislators, in both the House and Senate, and we expect to be fully engaged in those discussions, along with our colleagues from the other state-related universities, in order to find the best common ground for access and accountability.”

Senate Republicans did not immediately respond.

Dinniman introduced legislation to reduce the size of Penn State's board and expand the Ethics Act, which bars public officials from using their positions to gain financially, to cover board members at state-funded schools.

“Everyone spoke. Across the aisle, everyone said it's time to do reform, but reform was not done,” Dinniman said.

Teplitz worked with former Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview on a report detailing issues with the board and recommending reforms. He said few recommendations were implemented.

In May, Penn State trustees approved term limits for board members, removed the Penn State president and state's governor as voting members of the board, and instituted an expanded conflict-of-interest policy.

Lawmakers need to do more, Yudichak said.

Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano, who won a seat on the board last year after campaigning on a reform platform, has criticized the slow pace of change.

“I have been disappointed with the lack of progress on substantive reform such as board size, composition and term limits. I am also troubled by the lack of action on the Wagner recommendations,” Lubrano said.

Josh Fatzick is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.

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