Through public records lawsuits, RCFP’s Local Legal Initiative seeks to improve Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law

Attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are currently fighting in court to help Pennsylvania journalists gain access to records that should be released under the state’s Right to Know Law.

If they’re successful, reporters from local news organizations will be able to access records that reveal a forensic audit of a local fire company, the salaries of county court employees, aggregated data about pneumonia and influenza deaths, and pandemic preparedness plans for a county jail.

Beyond helping these journalists access public records, such litigation could go a long way toward helping improve Pennsylvania’s relatively new public records law. With the state’s Right to Know Law less than 12 years old — quite young compared to other states’ public records laws — there is substantial opportunity to create favorable case law for transparency, as well as to address problems in the law, something that the Reporters Committee hopes to achieve through its Local Legal Initiative, led in Pennsylvania by attorney Paula Knudsen Burke.

While Pennsylvania’s current law is certainly better than the law it replaced, Knudsen Burke says there is still lots of room for improvement — both through the courts and the state legislature.

“I would not put us anywhere near the top of the country’s open records laws,” she said. “I would give us maybe a C+.” (Read more)