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October 9, 2014

Proposed right-to-know law changes would affect Pitt

Pitt and its fellow state-related universities would be required to disclose more financial information and post it online under proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s 2008 open records law.

Senate Bill 444, which would amend the state’s right-to-know law, passed the Senate unanimously on Sept. 23, then moved to the House state government committee, where it remained as the University Times went to press on Wednesday. Whether it will move to the House for a vote remains unclear.

The House has three scheduled legislative days, Oct. 14 and 15 and Nov. 12, remaining in the 2013-14 legislative session. Bills that are not passed before the end of the two-year legislative session must start over in the next legislative session.

SB 444 would require expanded disclosure of the University’s highest-paid employees. Currently Pitt must disclose its 25 highest-paid non-officers’ compensation. The proposed amendments would expand that number to 200.

Pitt would be required to disclose more details on contracts for goods and services, although the reporting threshold would rise from the current $1,000 to $5,000. The bill would require disclosure of the date the contract was executed, its amount, the beginning and end dates of the contract, name and address of the vendor and the subject matter of the contract.

Currently, under the state school code, contracts exceeding $1,000 are listed by category and include the name and address of the contractor, the nature of the contract and the unit for which duties were performed. The amount is disclosed only if it exceeds 10 percent of the contract category.

Much of the information SB 444 would require is part of the University’s annual information disclosure and instructional output and faculty salary reports that are provided to the state and posted on the Joint State Government Commission website.

However, Pitt would be required to post the data on its website “in a searchable, sortable and downloadable database format that is freely accessible by the public” and kept online and in print in the library for at least a decade.

In addition, the proposed legislation would place campus police departments at state-owned and state-related institutions under the requirements of open records law as if they were municipal police departments, with records not otherwise exempt presumed to be public records.

Paul A. Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, said the bill would significantly increase the amount of information available but would be burdensome in terms of gathering the information. “There is significant administrative time and effort required to collect the data,” he said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 4