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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Pa. public-records law changing

Pennsylvania state, county and local governments will be operating under a new set of rules in 2009 when a new Right-To-Know Law goes into effect.

“The big difference is the burden of proving a record is not public is on the agency, rather than on the members of the public,” said Chambersburg Borough Secretary Tanya Mickey, who has been named the borough’s open records officer.

That will be another difference, with governments designating to whom those records should go, Mickey said. The borough’s updated policy and a form to request information soon will be available on Chambersburg’s Web site (www.borough.chambersburg.pa.us), she said.

“The district has been working several months to fully comply with the law,” which was passed in February, said Sylvia Rockwood, director of information services for the Chambersburg Area School District. “All district administrators have attended a two-hour training conducted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

“We’ve set clear procedures and notified all employees of the importance of the law.”

The law provides that, once a request has been made, a government agency has five days to respond to the request and, if the information is not exempted under the law, up to 30 days to provide the requested information. An agency can request an extension of time to gather records, but if a request is denied, it has to be in writing with legal citations and there is an appeals procedure for the requester, according to the law.

That does not mean that any information requested by a member of the public will have to be obtained through a formal request, said Franklin County Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers, the county’s open records officer.

“We sent out an e-mail to our division leaders asking them to have all the departments and agencies under them to compile a list of what we’d call normal requests ... that they’d continue to hand out without a request form,” Byers said. [Mark Godsey]

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