Right-to-Know Law Reforms
While Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) guarantees citizens with access to the public records of state and local government agencies, including school districts, some important reforms are needed to address unintended consequences of the law that have a negative impact on such agencies and their taxpayers.
Commercial requests: One of the unintended consequences of the law has been the ability of individuals and companies to obtain information through the RTKL that they intend to use for financial gain. For example, a request for addresses and information that the requester will use to solicit new customers or a request for information that the requester will then re-sell as part of a service or product.
School districts must spend staff time and resources to comply with commercial requests. Many of these types of requests are vague, overbroad or voluminous and can take hours to locate a wide array of records, redact information in the records, or require the involvement of a school district’s attorney to evaluate the request.
Districts cannot recoup any of the costs associated with complying with these requests because the current fee structure in the law does not allow for charging any fees beyond duplication and mailing costs. As a result, taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for assisting in the marketing and profit making efforts of private businesses. While school districts have no desire to prohibit commercial requests, a solution must be found to provide a better balance.
Vexatious requests: The intent of the RTKL was to ensure that residents had access to information about their government. However, another unintended consequence has been the ability to use the law with malicious intent to intimidate, harass, or punish an agency, which results in bogging down the agency and wasting taxpayer resources. This was never anticipated by the General Assembly when the original statute was passed. While cases of vexatious requesters are not the norm, agencies need the ability to seek relief from those requesters who seek to use the law as a weapon.