Governor Wolf Allows HB 2463 to Become Law
Both the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats voted unanimously to pass House Bill 2463. Now, Act 77 of 2020, the new law prevents the governor from ordering state agencies to ignore requests for public records and information during an emergency declaration or suspending responses unless additional time is necessary. Under the new law, if a Commonwealth agency fails to respond to a request for records, the requestor can petition Commonwealth Court to compel the agency to respond to the request.
The General Assembly called for increased transparency. Governor Tom Wolf, after initially saying he would veto the legislation, let HB 2463 become law without his signature. The governor offered the following statement on the bill:
“Since the introduction of House Bill 2463, my administration has expressed deep concerns with forcing commonwealth employees to physically come to an office to process records requests under dangerous conditions. We have gone above and beyond to provide information to the legislature and public throughout the pandemic, including the data that drive our decision making.
“The Office of Open Records provided some assurance that they will draft guidelines to keep the commonwealth’s dedicated public servants safe. While I am still very concerned about the ill-conceived and poorly drafted legislation as it pertains to protections for critical security and infrastructure during an emergency, I am going to err on the side of transparency, as I have done throughout my term, and let this bill become law.
“Because the legislation is so poorly drafted, I also am stating my understanding that it simply clarifies that various data and models related to a disaster declaration are public records, so long as those records are not exempt from release under the existing Right-to-Know Law, including exemptions necessary to protect the safety and security of state infrastructure and those related to the pre-deliberative process of state agencies and officials.
“To be clear, commonwealth agencies are processing records requests and have been doing so for months. Responses were sent on all pending or received record requests. In fact, as this bill made its way through the legislative process, offices had re-opened and requests were being processed long before this bill came to my desk. This bill is no more than a talking point for many in the General Assembly, and it is long past time for mere talking about government transparency; it is time for exemplifying it, in particular as we continue to address the pandemic.
“I will let this bill become law, but it is time for the Republican legislature to hold themselves accountable for their intentional lack of transparency, their failures throughout this pandemic, and their response that has repeatedly endangered employees and citizens in Pennsylvania.
“It's time for accountability and reform, and that is what we should all expect and demand.”