Pennsylvania Supremes Orders Release of Bids Held By Contractor

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled yesterday that records of a private entity acting on behalf of a public agency may be subject to the state’s open records laws.

In its ruling, the court interpreted a provision of the Right-to-Know Law under which some records of a party that has a contract with a government agency to perform a “governmental function” become public. Scranton Times Tribune reporter Gretchen Wintermantel filed an open records request with the Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority seeking contract bids for concessions stands at PNC Field stadium.

The reporter was concerned when SWB Yankees, LLC, which is owned by the New York Yankees, solicited bids from concessions vendors but ending up entering a contract with another company also owned by the New York Yankees. SWB Yankees, a private minor league baseball operation company, manages the stadium and pays the authority an annual fee for using the stadium.

The Authority denied the request, arguing that SWB Yankees was not “contracted to perform a governmental function on behalf of the agency,” and therefore the information was not a public record of the Authority.

In determining whether the records could be subject to the law, the court adopted a so-called “non-ancillary test,” under which it considered whether the contractor was performing one of the “essential governmental functions” of the Authority on its behalf.

More here.

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Pennsylvania moves to close autopsy reports…

A bill that would prevent people from seeing autopsy records in the possession of county coroners is on its way for consideration by the full state Senate.

The Senate Local Government Committee voted in favor of the bill Tuesday, 10 months after then-Gov. Ed Rendellvetoed a similar measure.

The only “no” vote was by Lackawanna Democratic Sen.John Blake.

The law would require coroners only to release the dead person’s name, cause and manner of death.

The state newspaper association says the change would make it harder for people to know whether their elected coroners are doing their jobs properly.

The association also says coroners could delay producing even the more limited information until they make an annual filing with the county prothonotary’s office at the end of January.

Judge orders release of university foundation records…

From the erstwhile Student Press Law Center:

A state court judge on Monday ordered the releaseof East Stroudsburg University Foundation’s donation records, placing a hopeful capstone on a 2-year public records battle.

In February 2009 The Pocono Record, a regional paper in Pennsylvania, filed a public records request for funding information from the East Stroudsburg University Foundation in connection with the paper’s investigation of an ESU official suspected of sexual and financial impropriety.

The ESU Foundation is a nonprofit organization that collects private gifts and grants for the university.

The Record argued that the foundation’s files were subject to Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law because the foundation performed government functions for the university and was a state-affiliated entity.

The university and foundation denied the request, however, arguing that the foundation was exempt because it is an independent contractor.

Pennsylvania Moves to Toughen Its Open Meetings Law

Sunshine of my life is you...

A bill to toughen Pennsylvania’s primary open meetings law for governments is on its way to the House after Senate passage.

The state Senate voted 48-to-2 on Tuesday to increase penalties for first-time intentional violations of the Sunshine Law to a fine of up to $1,000.

Second-time offenders could be hit with a $2,000 fine, and taxpayers can’t be made to pay the fines.

This is the third time the state Senate’s passed such a bill. The other two died of inaction in the House at the end of session.

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911 Addresses Ruled Public Records in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

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A Pennsylvania appeals court held Wednesday that the destination addresses — or nearby cross streets — linked with 911 time response reports must be released under state public records laws. The ruling inYork County v. Pennsylvania Office of Open Records overturns a lower court decision that held that the state Office of Open Records was wrong to order the addresses released.

Ted Czech, a reporter for the York Daily Record, requested the time response reports in 2009. The reports list: the time a 911 call is received; the time the dispatcher contacts the police or fire department; and the time authorities arrive. The reports also list the destination addresses for the call. The logs are intended to measure response times to 911 calls. York County denied Czech’s request for the addresses in the response logs.

York County argued that the addresses were not part of the state legislature’s intent when it made the time response records specifically subject to the state’s Right-to-Know Law in a 2008 amendment. The county also said the amendment lacked a clear definition for “time response log.”

The court examined the legislative history of the amendment and found that there was nothing to suggest that addresses were exempt, despite the lack of a definition of a “time response log” and a floor statement from a member of the legislature who expressed the desire for addresses to be exempt. The amendment that was passed did not exempt the addresses from the time response logs and “what the General Assembly did is more important than what any one member said,” the court held.


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Newish Pa. FOI law no panacea…

A Pennsylvania state appeals court ruled Thursday that incident reports filed by state police officers are not public records, citing an exemption in the state’s Right to Know Law that protects from public disclosure “a record of an agency relating to or resulting in a criminal investigation.”

The court’s 6-1 ruling reversed an earlier decision by the state Office of Open Records that such documents should be made public.

In February of 2009, the Potter Leader-Enterprise of Coudersport, Pa., submitted an open records request seeking an incident report involving an altercation at a private residence. The state police initially denied the request.

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