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Limits proposed for Right-to-Know Law

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A proposal to make changes to Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law would include limits on access by inmates and authorize the Office of Open Records to review documents in private to see whether they should be released.

The 22-page bill introduced on Friday by Sen. Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County, the Republican floor leader, would permit agencies to impose fees for commercial use of records, allow government to block “unduly burdensome” requests and exempt volunteer fire and rescue companies.

The proposal represents a first step as lawmakers consider revisions to the 2008 law that controls the public's ability to get government information and records.

The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association supports some elements but has concerns about others, said Deb Musselman, a lobbyist with the organization.

“There are some portions of the bill that, if they are not changed, would cause us to really have to sit down and think seriously about our position,” Musselman said. “But we are hopeful we can make our case about the things we want to change.”

Pileggi's bill would not apply the law fully to Pennsylvania's four “state-related” universities — Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Lincoln and Temple — but that provision, which has some support in the Legislature, could be added as an amendment. The campus police of the state-related schools, however, are added to the agencies that must comply with the law under the draft.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association was covered under the law, but it would be moved to another section for technical reasons.

Pileggi's proposal would bring under the law economic and industrial development authorities. It would provide more detail about what must be disclosed from 911 center call logs.

If agencies feel they have been saddled with unduly burdensome requests, they would be allowed to ask a judge for a protective order.

“That's very sticky, and that's something we are concerned could be misapplied,” Musselman said.

Inmates would be limited to a list of records, most of which pertain to the inmate directly, including his or her criminal records, work records and disciplinary records.

The Office of Open Records' 2012 report said inmates accounted for 31 percent of the appeals it handled, second to “citizens” at 56 percent.

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