Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Transparency through tougher open records law would lead to informed citizens in Pennsylvania

Tuesday, June 05, 2007
What with everything else that's going on, try ing to get Pennsylvania to join the 21st century in allowing the public access to public documents without having to run through an obstacle course or apologize for being interested in what government is doing probably doesn't rank high on most people's lists of needed "reforms."

But how could you have any serious measure of reform without opening up government (read "public") records to easy access and scrutiny?

Putting a citizen-friendly Open Records law on the books may not be politically sexy, but it is essential.

And we're glad to see that it's generating serious interest among lawmakers, such as Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, whose proposal was the subject of a hearing by the Senate State Government Committee yesterday.

Gov. Ed Rendell has weighed in, as well, with a strong proposal. And next week, the House Speaker's Legislature Reform Commission plans to vote on changes to the Right-to-Know Law.

This level of interest among lawmakers in open-records reform is gratifying. But the test will be the final product. The Legislature went down this path most recently in 2002, when improvements were made in the basic 1957 Right-to-Know law. But that effort still left much to be desired.

With Pileggi announcing yesterday afternoon that he has taken the position that Open Records law reform should begin with the basic presumption that public records are to be public -- joining Rendell and others in that regard -- genuine reform appears to be within reach. This approach recognizes that obvious and appropriate exceptions must be identified, such as individual medical records, Social Security numbers, security procedures, etc.

Transparent government is better government. And that should be the ultimate guiding principle of reform, which at long last appears to be the case.

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