Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pennsylvania's New Open Records/Right To Know Law

A new Pennsylvania Open Records Law SB 1 Act # 3 of the Laws of PA 2008 becomes effective January 1, 2009. To read the new law go to: http://tinyurl.com/8mt4kd A new Office of Open Records for Pennsylvania has been created and it has a website: http://openrecords.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt

The Act is also on the website under the tab entitled: "The Right To Know Law". There are forms for making requests and a list of frequently asked questions. I would encourage anyone planning on requesting records under the new law to read the information on the website BEFORE applying. In reading the provisions of the bill I wanted guidance as to whether vital records(birth, marriage, divorce, death and adoption) would be covered under the Act and if the Act's per record page cost applied to these same records. I received a reply from the senior attorney in less than 24 hours! Essentially the charges per page ($0.25 maximum) do NOT apply and due to other established law, birth and adoption records are not covered. Unless there are existing statutory limitations marriage, divorce and death records are expected to be covered under the Open Records Law.

This is the response:"Vital statistics records are subject to the Right to Know law unless there arestatutory provisions enacted to the contrary. Pennsylvania statute provides that theAdvisory Health Board shall proscribe fees for copies of vital statistics (35 P.S.450.807) so the fee structure established by the Office of Open Records would not apply. Similarly, there are statutes protecting adoption records and birth records from disclosure and the Right to Know Act would not trump those. The Right to KnowAct has an exception for any record that identifies the name, home address or date of birth of a child 17 years or younger. I would expect marriage, divorce and death certificates to be available to the public unless there are statutory limitations.

"At this time there are "only" guidelines developed by the Office of Open Records.
These guidelines will serve as guidance until the formal regulations are approved during the 2009-2010 Legislative session. OOR intends to gather as much public comment and input as possible prior to the regulations being published in final form.regulations. These guidelines will serve as guidance until the formal regulationsare approved during the 2009-2010 Legislative session. OOR intends to gather as muchpublic comment and input as possible prior to the regulations being published infinal form.

I would also encourage any requester to contact the appropriate office where the desired records are held to make certain they are available and the forms are thecorrect ones to use. Local offices must accept the Office of Open Records Forms evenif they have their own forms. As with any new process there may be a learning curvefor representatives in the local offices, and there may be a deluge of requests.

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS and
Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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