HB 2471 | Special expedited public registration process for elected officials

Session: 2021-2022

Position of the ACLU-PA: Opposes

HB 2471 would create an exception to require an expedited process for open case requests and appeals made by elected officials. HB 2471 would require public agencies to respond to a right-to-know request by a public official within five days of the request. If the agency denies the request for documents, the public official can appeal to the State Office for Open Documents, which must decide on the appeal within five days. Indeed, this bill would shorten the time for requests for records and appeals…only by/for elected officials—from 65 days to as little as 10 days.

The ACLU-PA opposes HB 2471 for the following reasons:

  • It is unclear what problem this bill is trying to solve. In his memo, the bill’s sponsor recounts a long delay in getting a response after appealing a Liquor Control Board’s denial of his Right to Know (RTK) request. But the appeal went all the way to the PA Supreme Court, meaning the ‘delay’ was at least in part due to the time it took for the appeal to make its way through the courts. courts, not the Office of Open Records.
  • HB 2471 would require Office of Open Records (OOR) appeals officers to make decisions within five days of filing an appeal—5 calendar days, no working days. This is an impractical and unwise time limit, as the agency to whom the request was made has the right to respond to the appeal. In addition, any other parties whose privacy or data interests may also be at stake are consulted. Accordingly, HB 2471 not only expects the OOR to weigh all legal arguments within 5 days, but also expects each agency/party involved in an appeal to comply with the expedited timeframe as well. Assuming this delay is even possible, HB 2471 would virtually guarantee sloppy, incomplete, and thoughtless appeal decisions.
  • There is no provision in HB 2471 to prevent a legislator from submitting an RTK request on behalf of someone else (a voter or other requester) in order to take advantage of the expedited process for receiving a response to a request and /or a call.
  • Finally, there is no justifiable reason in the public interest to give elected officials a special preference to receive RTK calls and/or request responses. Lawmakers have better tools to obtain and access public information and, as such, are already working at an advantage over other Pennsylvanians.