Rendell Signs Open Records Law

This story was written by Mandy Hofmockel, Daily Collegian
Gov. Ed Rendell signed the Open Records Law Thursday, which will provide more access to Penn State's financial information next year when the bill goes into effect.

Rendell believes increased transparency and readily available information will foster more trust in government, said Chuck Ardo, Rendell's press secretary.

Ardo described the differences between the old legislation and the new law as "day and night."

Geoff Rushton, Penn State spokesman, said officials would need to better examine the law to see its change in the university, but that Penn State would comply with it. Much of the budget is already available online, Rushton added.

Melissa Melewsky, media law attorney at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said her organization was involved in the process of drafting the new law and met daily for about 13 months with legislators and their staff.

She said that in the new law, some previously guarded financial information would be made public, including the top 25 salaries of Penn State officials. The salaries of other officers and directors and Penn State's IRS Form 990, which is filed by non-profits to account for yearly earnings, would also be released.

The previous law did not cover Penn State, Melewsky said. Those who have donated to the university would probably remain anonymous in this process, she added.

Rushton wrote in an e-mail that only 10 percent of Penn State's budget comes from state funds.

"Frankly, we will have to operate in a way that will make us less nimble and less competitive with many other major research universities in the nation," Penn State President Graham Spanier said in a testimony to members of the House State Government Committee on the Right-To-Know law last August.

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Pa., was involved in the early stages of drafting the Open Records Bill, said Don Houser, Corman's chief of staff. One concern with opening Penn State's records would be revealing contracts that might be detrimental to safety, he said.

"Penn State is one of the leading research institutes in the country," Houser said, adding that the university receives a great deal of federal contracts including those in the field of Applied Science. "Any research that Penn State does on campus should be private."

He said the bill's main purpose is to open government entities to the public, and Penn State is not a government entity.

Corman worked last year to amend the law, Houser said, so that state contracts could be searched online. The implementation of the law next year will allow time for new offices to be opened, he said.

The Open Records Law is part of the reform agenda of Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, said Tor Michaels, Conklin's chief of staff.

"We are happy with the legislation as it is," Michaels said. "We think that this is a good start."

Collegian Staff Writer Jessica Turnbull contributed to this report.
© 2008 Daily Collegian via U-WIRE