The House Tuesday unanimously approved House Resolution 50 sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), Majority Chair of the House Local Government Committee, to study the law’s impact on state and local agencies, including implementation costs.
“Openness and transparency must be a top priority at any level of government, and the Right-to-Know Law serves an important role in ensuring that happens,” Rep. Harper said. “The public deserves to know what’s happening with their government, and we want them to be involved in helping to ensure our state and local governments better meet their needs.”
However, Rep. Harper has heard a number of concerns from local elected officials about the financial impact of the expansion of the Right-to-Know Law implemented nine years ago.
While some legislation has been proposed to amend the law based on those concerns, Rep. Harper is calling for a study to collect hard evidence about the fiscal impact of the law, moving beyond just anecdotal evidence.
Among the concerns raised is potential abuse of the Right-to-Know Law, primarily by inmates who have time to file an endless supply of record requests.
She also referenced reports of businesses filing Right-to-Know requests to obtain information about various permits obtained by residents of a community to solicit business, such as fencing contractors requesting information about pool permits.
“I absolutely support public access to information, but not to further one’s business or for frivolous uses,” Rep. Harper said. “The study will help determine the true impact of these concerns and may help guide us in tweaking the law to protect the interests of our citizens, who deserve easy access to information about their government.”
According to the resolution, the nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee would be charged with conducting the study and issuing a report that would include the following:
-- Annual costs associated with the administration of the Right-to Know Law for Commonwealth, judicial and legislative agencies;
-- Annual costs associated with the administration of the Right-to Know Law for local agencies of various sizes and classifications; and
-- Recommendations to help decrease administrative burdens and offset costs for state and local agencies, while still ensuring reasonable access to public records and information.
“Reserve funds are necessary to ensure the continued and independent operation of the General Assembly,” said Commission Chair Rep. Mark Keller (R-Cumberland). “As recently as two years ago, we had to draw down from these reserves during the lengthy budget impasse about whether to increase sales and income taxes, or control spending.”
Rep. Keller pointed out that the current reserve is about $90 million less than it was 10 years ago, when it totaled more than $210 million.
Below is a breakdown of the reserves included in the audit (as of June 30, 2016):
-- Senate – $23,348,536;
-- House of Representatives – $56,903,139;
-- Legislative Reference Bureau – $6,627,653;
-- Legislative Budget and Finance Committee – $1,352,783;
-- Legislative Data Processing Committee – $14,283,218;
-- Joint State Government Commission – $920,934;
-- Local Government Commission – $631,190;
-- Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control Commission – $376,685;