Similar to the United States Constitution, Right to Know Laws might be followed again in Pennsylvania “As soon as this emergency passes.” At the very least apparently we must pass into the yellow light zone before either fully apply.
With advocates and lawmakers lining up against him, Gov. Tom Wolf is facing a test of his commitment to transparency.
The Pennsylvania state House voted unanimously to rebuke a current Wolf administration policy on Tuesday, when it passed a bill requiring state agencies to respond to Right to Know requests during emergencies.
“Transparency should never be delayed, and it should be emphasized during times of emergency disaster,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said on the House floor Tuesday.
Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law allows members of the public to request records from any government agency, from a school board to the Governor’s Office. Agencies usually have five days to respond to those requests.
But the Wolf administration has allowed executive branch agencies to seemingly indefinitely postpone processing the requests while state offices are closed for the pandemic.
Wolf, who said he opposes the House bill, defended that policy in a call with reporters on Tuesday.
He acknowledged that handling public record requests “has been put off, to a certain extent” during the crisis, and suggested that might be the case as long as Pennsylvania is weathering the pandemic.
“As soon as this emergency passes,” Wolf said, the processing of public records requests “will get back to the way it always has been.”
Wolf ordered state offices to close to the public on March 16, and for many state employees to work from home. Since then, not all state agencies have taken the same license in deferring Right to Know requests.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Treasurer Joe Torsella – independently elected officials who don’t answer to Wolf – have continued to process requests for public records, according to PA Post.