The Right to Know!

Do you know how to file a “Right to Know” request? Do you know why you might want to know how to do this? Since the gas drilling in Pennsylvania has taken off at full speed many people are finding the “Open Records Law” , also known as the “Right to Know Law”, a necessary way to gain information from PA state agencies in regards to state funded research studies, procedures and incidents/accidents that have taken place and/or correspondence between a state agency (like the DEP) and a drilling company.
Passed by PA legislators in 2008, the “Right to Know Law” requires that local or state agency records be presumed public. This was done to shift the burden of proof from the public to the government. So now the government must offer a compelling reason why a record need be kept secret. An example of this would be to prevent the violation of a government employee’s personal privacy or the compromising of government security. This last example of security is a very broad term that has been used  to create a gray area where government agencies are choosing what they deem to be information that needs to be secured from the public. This is in part how many of us, myself included, who have been active in seeking information about the drilling industries have been added to the Homeland Security government watch lists, but that topic will have to be a soap box for another day.
You can find “Right to Know” request forms at this website http://openrecords.state.pa.us and you can submit forms online or by email to  openrecords@state.pa.us
If you are mailing your form the old school way, via USPS, you can send it to:
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Office of Open Records
Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street, 4th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0225
Some details to know after you’ve filed for information. The Office of Open Records has 5 days to reply to your request. This does not mean they need to provide you with the information you requested within those 5 days, and they often respond with a letter explaining that they have 30 more days to get the information you asked for to you. I suppose they have a lot of files to search through and a lot of folks filing for info at this point….After the initial 5 days and after the secondary 30 days they must provide you with the requested info or you can then file an appeal from the same site, http://openrecords.state.pa.us. The appeal must be filed within 15 days of the mailing days of the agencies response of within 15 days of the agencies missed deadline to respond to your request.
I know many of you have filed for information and there have been a lot of questions about how much time the Open Records Office actually has to get back to you with information. I hope this helps to clear some of that up and encourages those of you who are unfamiliar with this process to participate in it if you are seeking information about yourself or incidents in your area.
Here’s some helpful info to get you started.
What agencies can you request information from?
The Right to Know Law applies to all state agencies (DEP, DCNR, Labor and Industry, etc) the PA General Assembly (Senate and House of Representative) and state-related institutions, such as Penn State University. It also applies to the finacial records of PA courts and to all local agencies, including town councils, water and sewer authorities, school boards and zoning boards.
Example of records that are public: Name, title and salary of public officials and employees. Finalized agency meeting minutes. Communicatins between lobbyists and legislators. 911 time response logs, Internal emails.
Example of records that are not public: Social Security, driver license or employee numbers. Personal financial information. Autopsy report information other than name, cause and manner of death. Home addresses of law enforcement and judges, etc.

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