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Wolf will veto Grove's bill targeting RTKs

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Rep. Seth Grove makes a fired-up response to Governor Wolf calling local officials cowards as members of the General Assembly from York and Adams counties hold a rally at Gene Latta Ford in Hanover to discuss the need to reopen the local economy by allowing people to safely and responsibly return to work. 
Tuesday, May 12, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Gov. Tom Wolf intends to veto state Rep. Seth Grove's legislation that would prevent governors from putting a halt to processing Right-to-Know Law requests while emergency declarations are in effect.

The administration announced the coming veto of Grove's legislation Thursday evening, a day after it unanimously passed the state Senate and was sent to Wolf's desk.

The bill was in direct response to Wolf's decision to cease processing requests in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

"In certain disaster emergencies, like a natural disaster or like the current pandemic, there may be no way for these dedicated public servants to safely access their offices at certain times," said Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger.

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"The General Assembly would not jeopardize its own employees, and it should not jeopardize agencies’ employees."

Grove's bill would have required all agencies to fulfill and respond to Right-to-Know Law requests — including during emergency declarations such as the one earlier this year shuttered state offices.

In case of closure of state offices, which was the case after Wolf shuttered offices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies would have been required to follow guidelines set by the Office of Open Records.

If agencies still refuse to process a request, a requester would have had 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.

The halt prompted criticisms from the bills' proponents that it hindered both journalists and the general public's access to information, and it proved to be ammunition in calls for more transparency at the state level.

After the Senate passed the bill Wednesday, Grove, R-Dover Township, said it would have been an opportunity for Wolf to "be the most open and transparent governor in the history of Pennsylvania."

"People always say they support transparency and accountability, but few support transparency and accountability on themselves," he said.

The Wolf administration, however, listed multiple possibilities where the legislation would force the administration to release "problematic and risky information."

Those risks include emergency operation plans that aren't publicly available and information that could jeopardize investigations, prosecutions and enforcement proceedings.

The York Dispatch first learned that Right-to-Know law requests were put on hold after filing a request for information about business waivers on March 25.

Wolf's administration said that it would not respond to the request, citing the closure of state offices.

It wasn't until June 5 that a response was received and The York Dispatch was told the request required a 30-day extension. The request was pulled because the information sought would have been outdated.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.