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Bumps on the road to sunshine

October 19, 2007

A Pennsylvania House committee this week approved a bill that would rework the state's open records law that would make many more records accessible.

The bill, if it becomes law, would also force many state agencies to justify their decision to keep some documents secret, according to the Harrisburg, Pa., bureau of The Associated Press.

But the rub, according to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, is that the bill would apply to new records, but not to old ones that weren't available under the law as it exists now.

That's a significant flaw, because a search for information that begins in the present often ends in the past.

Also, without access to previous records, it would be nearly impossible to establish a pattern of wrongdoing and/ or questionable spending.

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PNA also objects to provisions that would preclude access to records on the grounds that turning documents over would violate constituents' right to privacy.

We can understand some exceptions here, but every citizen's request for help can't be private. Otherwise, requests that were for improper favors couldn't be discovered, nor would it be possible to determine whether the elected official was paying attention to his or her constituents or ignoring them.

We recommend that the PNA and the lawmakers working on this get together and iron out these differences. Citizens have a right to know what their representatives are up to, if only because they pay the bills.

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