Burns introduces bill to strengthen open records law for public officials

Bill will prevent public agencies from running out the clock on requests

EBENSBURG, April 7 – Building on his successful campaigns to ensure public access to information and documents that some bureaucrats would rather remain secret, state Rep. Frank Burns has introduced legislation (H.B. 2471) that would strengthen the state’s right-to-know law by expediting public records requests filed by elected officials.

Burns’ bill would require government entities to provide an elected official who files an open records request with a final determination in five days, eliminating the 30-day extension permitted under current law. If the agency denies the request, the elected official could appeal to the state Office of Open Records, which would also have five days to rule on the case, down from 30 days. To support the OOR in hitting this aggressive timeline, the bill would also create a dedicated appeals officer position within the office specifically to handle appeals from elected officials.

The bill would not change what information is considered public in Pennsylvania and would not affect individuals who use the law to access public documents.

“Whether it’s the Liquor Control Board hiding information from the public, or any other public body making backroom deals that could impact taxpayers, I am a firm believer that decisions and information that affect the public need to be accessible to the public,” Burns said. “I’ve carried that fight all the way to the state Supreme Court, and this legislation would ensure that elected officials have information – and timely access to information – they need to make the right decisions.”

As an elected official, Burns has used the state’s right-to-know law to gain access to critical information in the past – and has run headfirst into bureaucratic stonewalling which turned a simple request into a two-year struggle for information.

“It was a completely unnecessary case of bureaucratic red tape, one which we’ve seen play out time and again,” Burns said. “Elected officials rely on access to data and other information to do their best to represent their constituents. My bill would prevent government agencies from running out the clock on elected officials who routinely have to cast time-sensitive votes,” Burns said.

In addition to his legal fight with the state LCB – which he funded out of pocket – Burns also pointed to a similar case involving Republican state Rep. Frank Ryan of Lebanon County, who filed an open records request seeking data related to the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan that was denied by the state Department of Health and later appealed to Commonwealth Court.