Pa. legislators consider opening records at Penn State, other public schools

PENNSYLVANIA — On the same day that former Penn State assistant footballcoach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on new molestation charges, state legislatorsreleased the text of a bill that would bring the university into the reach ofPennsylvania’s public records law.

House Bill 2051 would amend the Right-to-Know law to includewithin its purview “state-related” institutions, including four of the state’smajor universities: Penn State University, Temple University, LincolnUniversity and the University of Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania is one of two states, along with Delaware, withpublic universities that are not required to comply with state disclosureregulations.

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York County, introduced thebill, along with 34 co-signers, Monday. Under the new law, the universitieswould be required to release any documents, records or official correspondencesas defined by the existing public records law. The requirements already applyto most state agencies, including Pennsylvania’s other public colleges.

In the wake of the allegations against Sandusky and the PennState football program, The Associated Press has reported the university deniedrequests for documents pertaining to a 1998 investigation into the formercoach’s behavior. The university cited its exemption from the law as reason forthe denial.

While the recent scandal at Penn State was certainly animpetus for the proposal, DePasquale had other motivations as well.

“The main driver for me is the money,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The state putssignificant amounts of financial resources into them, as does the government.”

State Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna County, is expected tointroduce a similar version in that chamber later this month.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said she had not yet seenthe bill and could not comment on the specific legislation. But she said theuniversity has supported legislation in the past regarding financialtransparency and has put information online, including academic andadministrative budgets and the median and mean salaries of all employees.

“We fully agree with the need for strict fiscalaccountability,” Powers said. “If the Legislature revisits this issue, we willrevisit it with them and have similar discussions about things we think shouldbe considered as they rewrite the law.”

Officials at Temple are still looking over the proposedlegislation, said Ray Betzner, a university spokesman.

“We’ve clearly heard what the concerns of the members of thestate general assembly are,” Betzner said. “We are looking at the legislationnow, and we are looking forward to working with legislators to meet their needsand meet their concerns.”

The university would abide by any changes the Legislaturemakes, he added.

“We make a great effort to abide by the current law, and ifthat law changes, we will make great effort to abide by whatever the newlegislation is,” Betzner said. “We have a commitment to doing that.”

Lincoln University officials have questions about the newlegislation, said spokeswoman Cherie Amoore.

“From what I’m hearing about Rep. DePasquale, he just reallywants to increase the transparency,” Amoore said. “The Board of Trustees willdefinitely have some questions about that as far as what they’ll be lookingfor.”

Those concerns include whether the new regulations willrequire disclosure of items related to solicitation, donor information or“things that can make the university less competitive.”

She added that Lincoln officials do not foresee majorproblems.

“We don’t have anything to hide at Lincoln University, so itshouldn’t be too much of a problem,” Amoore said.

In its original version, the Right-to-Know law required thefour state-related universities to disclose nothing. An amendment in 2008mandated the release of limited financial documents, such as the highestemployee salaries.

Pennsylvania universities are not alone in seeing potentialtransparency changes. Delaware Reps. John Kowalko, D-Dover, and J.J. Johnson,D-Jefferson Farms, introduced House Bill 126 in the state Legislature in May.

The bill would redefine the University of Delaware andDelaware State University as “public bodies” under the auspices of the state’sopen-records and open-meetings laws. The universities would be required todisclose all activities and documents “relating to the expenditure of publicfunds.”

Existing law considers only the schools’ board of trusteesto be public bodies.

In light of the situation in Pennsylvania, Kowalko said he’soptimistic about the bill’s chances.

“For numerous reasons, I find HB 126 very necessary for theenlightenment of my constituents and all Delaware taxpayers,” he said.

Johnson and Kowalko hope to have the bill heard in committeein January — when the Legislature returns to session — and will be pushing forit to reach the floor for a vote, Kowalko said.