Sunshine over 'shade': Nix these bills
Government transparency needs more work in Harrisburg, specifically with regard to improving access to public information. But rather than open any windows wider, three pending state bills would draw the shades.
HB 297, authored by state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, would restrict the release of names, causes and manners of death of individuals — public information that's already provided by coroners. The bill's intent is to ensure that families of the deceased are duly notified before the information is released. But that's already addressed under the state's Right to Know Law and the Coroner's Act. And the release of that information is upheld in a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion.
The vagaries contained in this legislation would conflict with existing law. And a proposed amendment reportedly would prohibit coroners from releasing medical test results.
Two other bills, HB 1538 and SB 976, would shield the identities of police officers who injure or kill a person in “the use of force” (unless criminal charges are filed against police) and block public access to officers' bodycam footage, respectively. Sidelining the public, especially at a time when police are under increased scrutiny, would only further any public mistrust when bridges, not roadblocks, are needed.
Transparency, we remind, is the heart of the law, not an afterthought. Impinging on that, in matters that directly concern the public, is an egregious step backward.