A House panel is expected to consider a bill Wednesday that would require state agencies to respond to open records requests, which have largely been shelved by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration as officials focused on the pandemic.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, just introduced the bill hoping to end the road block that has existed in obtaining records from most state agencies. There’s no reason state officials working at home could not begin processing the information, he said.
“While transparency between government and people is critical in normal times it is even more important during an emergency,” Grove wrote in a co-sponsorship memo circulated last week. Grove said it would deal with not only the state’s response to COVID-19 but in other times in the future when an emergency is declared.
A House leadership staffer confirmed Grove’s bill will be considered by the House State Government Committee. Grove said his bill takes into account the demands on agencies, many of them battling coronavirus, and will establish “fair policies” for responding now and in the future during emergencies.
News organizations and lawmakers have been frustrated in efforts to obtain documents on waivers granted by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for businesses not designated life-sustaining when Wolf shut down so-called non-essential businesses last month.
More than half the states and District of Columbia have taken action that limit or cut off information during the pandemic, according to Gunita Singh, a legal fellow with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The independent row offices, auditor general, treasurer, and attorney general, are still taking and trying to process requests. The House and Senate Right to Know Law offices remain open.