Penn State

Senate bill would open more Penn State data to public

The bell and Old Main on the Penn State campus on Saturday, June 23, 2012.
The bell and Old Main on the Penn State campus on Saturday, June 23, 2012. CDT file

Proposed legislation that would require Penn State and other state-related universities to release more information publicly, including details on budgets and salaries, cleared a state Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate State Government Committee voted unanimously to endorse the proposed bill that would expand how Pennsylvania’s open records law applies to four state-related universities.

The bill would require Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln universities to create searchable and sortable databases that could be downloaded freely on their public websites, said state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, who is on the committee.

Corman said in a statement that the databases would include extensive budget, revenue and expenditure data, and nonpersonal employee and student data.

“Providing easy online access to detailed budget and academic information for our state-related universities is an innovative addition to the act and will improve how the public can view the important impact public support has at these institutions,” Corman said.

The bill also would require Penn State to post information about contracts valued at $5,000 or more on the state’s online contract database, and report the top 200 employee salaries, up from the top 25 required by the existing law.

“For the first time, the public will have easy online access to detailed budget and academic data for Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln,” Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, the bill’s author, 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.”

Penn State and the other state-related universities are not now fully under the state’s Right to Know law.

“This bill will be another big win for taxpayers,” committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker said in a statement. “In recent years, citizens have seen too much of the serious ethical problems and the scandals that secrecy is conducive to. In contrast, the Open Records Law has improved accountability and given the public a much better look at what their government is doing. That’s the sort of transparency we want to build on.”

Corman said the bill makes other alterations to existing law, including clearly establishing the Office of Open Records as an independent agency, establishing a new fee structure for commercial requests and clarifying the media’s exemption from the commercial request provision.

“I believe our Open Records Law is one of the best in the nation, and this bill makes a number of important and needed changes to improve upon our nationally recognized model,” Corman said.