Vexatious Requesters – GOP Proposed Law to Stop Right to Know Abuse in PA but Could it Cause More Harm than Good?

HARRISBURG – Those who would abuse the Right to Know process in Pennsylvania undoubtably exist, but is the solution crafted by republicans in the legislature the right answer or could it create negative unintended consequences?

As shared with NewsTalk1037FM by Senator Judy Ward, legislators have heard for a long time from many in boroughs, townships, counties and school boards that there are those that would abuse the system and cause waste of time and money. An example Ward gave was of a board member who loses their seat then seeks revenge by filing numerous RTK requests. 

However the solution, Senate Bill 552 introduced by Senator Chris Dush (with mirror legislation, HB 1457 sponsored in the House by Representative Jesse Topper) and passed unanimously by GOP senators with some democratic support, may be open to a different kind of abuse.

The “Vexation Requester” addition to the state RTK law would introduce a process by which any entity subject to RTW could petition the Office of Open Records (OOR) for relief from a RTK requester that the entity alleges to be vexatious. The standards by which the requester could be alleged to be a problem however, are vague and left to the subjective decision of the entity making the claim. 

This starts a possibly very time consuming process by which the executive director of the OOR, or the designee of that person, makes a determination of whether or not they find the complaint valid, and then if so, there is a back and forth process by which the requester can appeal. This could include a hearing and/or meditation. 

Ultimately if decided by the OOR that the vexatious claim is valid, and all appeals exhausted, the requester could be banned from having RTK requests honored by that agency for up to a year. Appeals to the Common Wealth Court could also be a part of the proceedings.

Many concerns are raised as it could be tempting for an entity not wishing to disclose information in a timely fashion to use the process to slow down the whole RTK process.

Being labeled “vexatious” could also be the goal of some with an agenda to depict governmental agencies in a certain light or conversely this could be used in a way seen too often today, to negatively label someone as “problematic” and cancel them from participation in seeking information in this way. 

The passed senate legislation has moved now to the State Government Committee of the House for consideration.