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PA News

State Senate Bill Would Limit “Vexatious” Right-to-Know Requests

ACLU takes exception to proposed legislation.

Some officials in Harrisburg want to limit the amount of times someone can file a Right to Know request with their local governments.

Senate Bill 525 was recently introduced by State Sen. Cris Dush, who serves Cameron, Clinton, Elk, McKean, Potter and parts of Centre and Jefferson counties. The bill aims to put a cap on the number of Right to Know requests filed by people he calls “vexatious”.

Vexatious is defined as being irritating, annoying, bothersome, nettlesome, or pesky.

In a memo seeking support of this bill, Dush says, “While most of these requests come from valid requestors, some of these requestors have been identified as having vexatious intent with their requests. This issue is a top legislative priority of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and Pennsylvania Municipal League, Pennsylvania State Association to Township Commissioners, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, whose members regularly grapple with such requests on a regular basis.”

He adds that local school boards, municipalities, and state agencies have become “overwhelmed by burdensome” Right to Know requests.

Under the bill, if it’s passed as currently written, any government entity could petition the state’s Open Records office to deem someone a “vexatious” filer of Right to Know requests.

So, rather than just honoring the Right to Know request and responding to it, this bill would basically use up more time in petitioning the Open Records office.

However, if the Open Records office were to determine that someone is a “vexatious” filer of Right to Know requests, they’d be able to prevent them from filing another RTK for one year.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania vehemently opposes this legislation. It says SB525 provides “an unprecedented approach to considering public records, permitting the government to pick and choose who is entitled to those records.”

ACLU also says this bill violates everyone’s First Amendment right to petition the government. It says previous case law defended a person’s right to file RTK requests, no matter how annoying they may be to a government agency.

In an opposition paper, ACLU writes, “If this bill were to become law, it could be subject to constitutional challenge and if challenged, it is likely to be found constitutionally infirm.”

The civil rights group also takes exception to the use of the term “vexatious” in describing someone filing a number of RTK requests. ACLU says the definitions of “vexatious” included in the Senate legislation are “ripe for abuse” by local government officials.

Dush’s Senate bill also does not include any exceptions for news media filing RTK requests so they, too, could be deemed “vexatious” by any local official with an ax to grind against a reporter or news organization.

SB525 is currently with the Senate’s State Government committee, of which State Sen. Dave Argall, who represents Schuylkill County, is Vice Chairman.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Coalregion12

    June 15, 2024 at 8:58 pm

    I would love to hear where Sen. Argall stands on this.

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