Grove's bill to resume RTK processing advances to Senate
State Rep. Seth Grove's legislation aiming to force the Wolf administration to resume processing Right-to-Know Law requests on Monday unanimously passed in the lower chamber.
With the bill on its way to the Senate floor, the Dover Township Republican hopes to provide relief for journalists and the public through reopening the RTK process — which the state suspended on March 16 due to state office closures.
“Government transparency cannot stop during times of crisis," said Grove in a Tuesday statement. "The people have the right to petition their government, and the media has the right to question government officials."
Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has said that because state offices are closed and many employees are working remotely, agencies have to prioritize COVID-19 response efforts.
Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger said the administration opposes the bill, though she wouldn't explicitly say whether Wolf would veto it if it reaches his desk.
"It’s disappointing that some members of the General Assembly seem to be only focused on grandstanding instead of collaborating to combat the pandemic in a meaningful way," she said.
But proponents of the legislation have said the RTK suspension has been a roadblock for citizens and journalists throughout the state who are hungry for transparency.
Lawmakers have also criticized the Wolf administration for not releasing details about waivers granted to some businesses so they could avoid the coronavirus closure order.
“The administration’s reaction to the crisis has been marred with controversy and has generated serious questions," Grove said. "It has been nearly impossible to get answers to any of the questions because agencies simply are not answering them."
Grove's bill would require all agencies to follow guidelines set by the Office of Open Records.
Those guidelines would take into account difficulties brought by the coronavirus pandemic and future disasters, the bill language states.
If agencies still refuse to process a request, a requester would have the ability to file a petition with the Commonwealth Court to "compel" the agency to provide a response while also paying for the individual's legal fees.
It is unclear when the legislation would come up for a vote in the Senate, but the upper chamber will reconvene on May 18, making that the earliest time action could be taken.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.