RIGHT TO KNOW REQUESTS
March 27, 2020
To our Valued Clients:
Regarding Right-To-Know (“RTK”) requests for records, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (“OOR”) offers the following guidance in connection with COVID-19 considerations:
Requestors are urged to not file any new RTK requests currently, as inspecting records will be difficult for agencies. If an agency implements a Continuity of Operations Plan (“COOP”) or takes similar steps in response to an official emergency declaration (such as the March 6, 2020 disaster emergency declaration signed by Governor Wolf), the issue of how RTK requests will continue to be handled should be part of that plan. The agency should take steps to notify the public of the agency’s plan with regard to RTK requests, which could include, for example, an auto-reply from the email address designed to receive RTK requests. If an agency is closed on a given day, that day is not a ”business day” and does not count toward the five business days referenced in the Pennsylvania RTK Law governing the time period under which an agency must respond to a RTK request.
To the extent that an agency is unable to comply with strict response deadlines found in the RTK Law due to bona fide issues related to an emergency declaration, 35 Pa.C.S. §7501(d) allows agencies under a “declaration of disaster emergency” (including Governor Wolf’s statewide declaration) to temporarily suspend the need to comply with certain laws and requirements; consultation with your solicitor before invoking 35 Pa.C.S. §7501(d) in relation to the RTK Law is recommended. The OOR has invoked an indefinite extension on all RTK appeals filed and is committed to protecting due process and ensuring requestors and agencies have a full and fair opportunity to meaningfully participate in any RTK appeal, which may mean delaying appeal proceedings until the parties are able to participate in light of COVID-19 considerations.