State-related universities defend right-to-know status
HARRISBURG — Lawyers for Penn State and Pennsylvania's three other “state-related” universities said on Monday they should not be fully covered by the state Right-to-Know Law, as lawmakers revisited a previously settled question reignited by the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case.
The attorneys said during a four-hour Capitol hearing on proposed changes to the state's main open-records law that it should not apply to them as it does to the 14 state-owned schools in the State System of Higher Education.
The Senate State Government Committee appeared divided as it considers a bill to make changes to the version of the law passed in 2008.
Chairman Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, said Sandusky's 2011 arrest and subsequent conviction has been a “game changer” in several areas of state law.
Lawyers for Penn State, Pitt, Lincoln and Temple said it was not a simple matter of cost. They said their institutions are not state agencies and do not have the government's sovereign immunity protection from lawsuits.
They receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding annually. The 2008 revisions to the Right-to-Know Law largely excluded the schools but imposed a requirement that they disclose certain financial information annually, including some of their largest salaries.
Pitt attorney Paul Supowitz said the schools support a proposal to apply the Right-to-Know Law to their own police departments and are open to discussing other changes.
Stephen Dunham, Penn State's top lawyer, said putting it fully under the Right-to-Know Law would damage the school's decision-making systems, which reflect its status as more private and autonomous than similar large public universities in other states.