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Citizens deserve open, accountable government

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“Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” This is especially applicable to citizens’ access to government records. A strong open records law permits citizens to monitor actions of local and state officials, and allows taxpayers to review and understand expenditures of tax dollars. Pennsylvania’s “public records” law is one of the weakest in our nation. The Pennsylvania House and Senate are working to fix the problems, but seem to be having difficulty grasping the goal of serving the public interest, instead getting distracted with protecting themselves from voters’ oversight. At the minimum, a reform law must: Presume that government records are “public records”; Make agencies prove why access to records should be denied, with access being the “rule” and denials the exception; Apply to all state and local government agencies, including the legislature and the judiciary; Set reasonable time limits for providing access to and copies of records; Provide simple, low-cost and effective procedures — before an independent agency — for handling appeals from denials, and apply this process to all agencies, including the Legislature; and Set civil and criminal penalties for violations of the law that serve as real incentives for officials to obey it, and allow citizens who win appeals to recover attorney’s fees and costs at administrative and court levels. Real reform is long overdue. Teddie Hayes Rocklin