Bill would put universities under state's records law
HARRISBURG — A proposal to fully include Penn State and the other three “state-related” universities under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law passed an early test in a committee vote on Monday, although Democrats were split on the issue.
The State Government Committee approved the bill, which would also pertain to the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University. The four state-related universities get substantial state funding but are not state-owned, as are the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education.
A complete rewriting of the Right-to-Know Law that took effect in January 2009 requires the schools to provide some records, including the salaries of their highest-paid employees but exempts a great portion of their information.
All Republicans and three of nine Democrats on the committee voted for it.
Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the committee and one of the six no votes, said the four schools were accustomed to operating with more authority. He expressed concern about the cost to establish an open records officer and begin fielding requests.
Other schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, get state funding but are “untrammeled” by the public records bill, Cohen said.
The state's hundreds of public school districts are covered under the law, said Rep. Fred Keller, R-Union. The state-related universities, Keller said, “need to decide whether or not they want the state money.”
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said that although the school supports accountability, “we do not support Right-to-Know legislation that treats Penn State as a state agency — because we are not a state agency.”
Cohen said Pitt and Temple had indicated to his staff that they were opposed to the bill, although their representatives did not return messages seeking comment. A spokesman for Lincoln University declined comment.