Local lawmakers are behind recently passed laws that are expected to bring more transparency to government meetings.
Senate Act No. 554 amended the Sunshine Act to require agencies to provide meeting agendas before and during public sessions.
“Every time we can make the government more transparent and open to taxpayers, we should do that.” State Representative Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township said. “I think it’s a good law.”
The law also limits the action an agency can take on off-agenda matters. And it allows an agency to change the agenda during a public meeting and then take official action, but only if a majority of the agency members present vote in favor.
The law was passed unanimously by both Houses and put into effect by Governor Tom Wolf.
State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, agreed that the goal of the bill was to create more transparency in government.
He said it was a positive step forward for media coverage.
“The newspapers should be happy about it” he said.
And, Wheeland said, the public will certainly benefit from the legislation.
“I mean, how often do people go to meetings and don’t know what is being talked about? That way they can know in advance what is being talked about. “ he said. “I think it’s good for the public to know what’s on the agenda instead of missing out on something that is important to them.”
The draft law provides for information to be published on the agency’s website at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting. In addition, the agenda must be posted at the meeting place and made available to those present.
Wheeland said he opposed the law until provisions were added that would allow government agencies to make urgently needed decisions on non-agenda issues in emergency situations.
As a former district captain, he can recall such public safety-related situations that required immediate attention.
Hamm said there didn’t seem to be any real opposition to the bill being passed.
“I think at the end of the day, the more access we give taxpayers and the more access to information, the better.” he said. “Taxpayers can be informed, and that is important.”
State Representatives Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, and Stephanie Borowicz, R-Lock Haven, were unavailable for this story.
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