Pa. bills could require university police agencies, state-related institutions to disclose additional information

PENNSYLVANIA — Several lawmakers are trying to break down open records exemptions for Pennsylvania universities with two bills that could require these institutions to disclose more information under the commonwealth’s public records law.

One bill would require state-related universities — institutions that receive taxpayer dollars but get a majority of their funding from private donors — to create online databases disclosing budget, salary and contract information. The other bill would require campus police departments at all universities to comply with the same open records requirements as municipal police departments.

Similar legislation was proposed last year, which passed unanimously in the Senate but the session ended before the House of Representatives could take a vote.

Sen. John Blake, a Democrat, introduced on Feb. 5 the database bill, which would apply to Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, Lincoln University and the University of Pittsburgh. He said he proposed the legislation to “advance accountability and transparency in state government operations.”

Under Blake’s bill, state-related universities would be required to disclose their revenue and spending and details about any contracts they sign. Institutions with less than 2,500 employees would have to disclose the salaries of the 25 highest paid employees. Institutions with more than 2,500 employees would disclose the salaries of the 200 highest paid employees. They would also have to include what percentage of employees’ salaries are nonsalary compensation, such as medical benefits and pensions.

Pennsylvania and Delaware are the only states with open records exemptions for state-related universities.

“There is an obligation of government within reasonable and appropriate legal parameters to allow the citizenry to know what we’re doing with the dollars that are being appropriated for the variety of missions that executive agencies, or in this case academic institutions, and how they use public dollars,” Blake said.

Sen. Dominic Pileggi, a Republican, introduced on Feb. 5 the campus police bill. Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Pileggi, said the bill is an effort to correct an oversight in the state’s current Right to Know law that excluded campus police departments.

“Sen. Pileggi’s view is that every police department that has arrest power should be treated the same way, so that’s what this bill would accomplish,” Arneson said.

City police departments are required to release arrest reports and police reports unless a case is under investigation. Currently, Pennsylvania law does not require campus police departments to disclose such information.

Arneson said the bill would cover police departments at state-related universities, as well as public and private institutions.

Ken Service, a spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh, said university officials see no need for additional reporting regulations but will comply with the law if it passes.

“We currently feel that we provide very robust disclosure and information regarding the funding that we receive from the commonwealth and that the information we already disclose enables the public to see how the commonwealth dollars are spent,” Service said.

Contact SPLC staff writer Mariana Viera by email or at (202) 478-1926.