Bill on colleges and right-to-know law advances

Posted: June 20, 2014

Pennsylvania's state-related universities would be required to disclose more information on salaries, contracts, and other business if legislation approved by a state Senate committee on Wednesday goes forward.

The State Government Committee unanimously endorsed a proposal that would apply to Pennsylvania State, Temple and Lincoln Universities and the University of Pittsburgh, none of which now has to adhere to all provisions of the state's Right to Know Law. That has been a sore point for freedom of information advocates, especially as costs for higher education increase and in the aftermath of Penn State's child sex-abuse scandal.

"If this passes, Pennsylvania is going to see more information than it has seen in 200 years from the state-related institutions," said Terry Mutchler, executive director of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records.

Mutchler praised the lawmakers who have been discussing proposed changes for two years as taking the time to develop solid legislation.

Under the proposal, the schools would be required to create publicly accessible databases with information on budget, revenue, and expenses, number of employees and students, and "nonpersonal" data on those employees and students, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi's office said.

The schools also would have to post information on contracts of $5,000 or more on the state's online contract database. In addition, Penn State, Temple, and Pitt would be required to make public the salaries of their 200 highest-paid employees; currently they report the top 25. Lincoln, which is smaller, would continue to report the top 25.

"For the first time, the public will have easy online access to detailed budget and academic data for Penn State, Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln," Pileggi, a Republican from Delaware County and the bill's sponsor, said in a statement. "Given the level of public support that goes to these universities every year, it makes perfect sense to take this important step."

The legislation also would bring the campus police departments under the same right-to-know laws municipal police departments follow.

The goal, said Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson, is to get the legislation enacted in the fall.

A Penn State spokeswoman said the university is evaluating the proposal.

"At first glance it appears to be a significant expansion of the type and amount of Penn State's financial information available for public inspection," Lisa Powers said.

The university supports the provision on campus police, she said.

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