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A Publication of the PSATS Grassroots Lobbying Network WINTER 2008

New Open Records Law Classic Example of Legislative Process

Watch for more information on Pennsylvania's new Right-to-Know Law, more commonly known as the Open Records Law, in the April issue of the Pennsylvania Township News. To view the final bill online, click the link on the Grassroots Network Web site.

he old adage that "laws are like sausages -- it's best not to see them being made" -- could certainly apply to the long, arduous journey to update Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law, commonly referred to as the Open Records Law. Eleven months after the open records legislation was first introduced, however, the process is complete. Following some rancorous debate over final privacy-related amendments, legislators sent the bill to Gov. Rendell on Feb. 12, and he signed it into law as Act 3 of 2008 on Feb. 14. In the last year, passing a new open records statute has become a symbol of the "reform"

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movement in the General Assembly. The media regularly claimed that Pennsylvania's open records law was one of the weakest in the nation, prompting several powerful interest groups to make updating it a top priority. And now, both Democratic and Republican leaders point to the proposed legislation as evidence of their accomplishments in this session. PSATS worked with legislators for months to help craft a bill that fosters more open government without placing more expense or burden on townships. "Legislation is all about the art of compromise,"

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PSATS Opposes Mandatory EIT Collection

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Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors 4855 Woodland Drive Enola, PA 17025-1291 Phone (717) 763-0930 Fax (717) 763-9732 www.psats.org

In January, members of PSATS Grassroots Lobbying Network successfully blocked the passage of Senate Bill 1063, which would mandate countywide collection of earned income taxes in the state. The Senate Appropriations Committee failed to achieve the majority vote needed to report the bill for consideration by the full Senate, ending in a deadlocked 13-13 vote. While PSATS supports regional earned income tax collection based on a member-approved resolution, the current proposal offers some cause for concern. The plan, from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, would establish a countywide collection system, with each county creating a tax committee of municipal and school district representatives. Committee members would choose a public or private agency to collect the tax and would set up a tax collection office. The proposal also calls for administrative reforms, including mandatory audit requirements, which PSATS insisted on. PSATS contends that any regional system must be voluntary, not mandatory, and that townships must have substantial input into the choice of a tax collector. Watch for more details -- and please be ready to act -- as the committee revisits this bill.

A Publication of the PSATS Grassroots Lobbying Network

PSATS Executive Director R. Keith Hite says, "and with a bill this far-reaching, it became even more difficult to maintain the intended focus." Timing was critical as numerous groups sought to amend the bill to best suit their constituents. PSATS kept a close watch on each of those changes, choosing on behalf of its members when and what to support, oppose, or remain neutral on. Sometimes those decisions were made daily according to the maneuverings of the legislature, and that meant the timing of grassroots activity was just as varied -- and just as urgent. "For us to have the strongest presence at the Capitol, township officials had to communicate with their lawmakers as PSATS was talking one-on-one with those same legislators in Harrisburg," Hite says.

A series of changes

PSATS' support of Senate Bill 1, as the new law was known, waxed and waned through a series of amendments. For example, legislative leaders worked to accommodate the needs

of local governments early on. Later amendments, however, granted expansive authority over open records policy to the State Ethics Commission. This would undoubtedly have placed greater burdens on local government, and PSATS chose to oppose the amended bill. However, thanks in large part to the efforts of PSATS' Grassroots Lobbying Network, the bill was again amended to address access to public records while protecting the rights of local government. "We supported positive changes in the Right-to-Know Law, particularly its expansion to cover legislative agencies along with state and local government," Hite says. "However, PSATS' policy directs us to communicate our concerns about any proposal that would create administrative burdens on townships." The members of PSATS Grassroots Lobbying Network played a big role in the passage of a bill that, in the end, did what it was meant to do: It expands access to public records and maintains privacy without increasing local government's cost of doing business. F

Please Note: To make

sure you receive this newsletter as quickly as possible, PSATS will send future issues by e-mail. If you have a new e-mail address, please contact Pat Raymond at [email protected] If you would like to continue receiving a printed version of the newsletter, please contact Jennifer Hawbaker at (717) 763-0930. All issues will also be posted on the Grassroots Web site.

GRASSROOTS SPOTLIGHT:

Joe Dunbar

Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County

Joe Dunbar, manager for Lower Providence Township in Montgomery County for the last four years, is proud to be an active member of PSATS' Grassroots Lobbying Network. Dunbar says he was eager to be a local grassroots representative and to help expand the Association's lobbying network. In fact, thanks to his recruitment efforts, Montgomery County now has the highest number of network members in the state. " `Lobbying' often brings to mind only Washington and multi-conglomerate-type groups with results that are not always in the best interest of the taxpayers," Dunbar says. "Many do not realize how effective lobbying can be in Harrisburg. It's a great opportunity, and I'm fortunate to be working alongside my fellow PSATS members and the Montgomery Consortium of Managers. The Grassroots Network, coupled with a strong relationship with local legislators, has the potential to be a very a powerful tool." Dunbar and his fellow local government officials enjoyed good relationships with the people who are now their legislators even before they took office, he says. For instance, he explains, "Our relationship with Rep. Mike Vereb was in place before his election to the legislature, beginning when he served on the Board of Commissioners for neighboring West Norriton Township." The legislators respond well to their township constituents, Dunbar says. In turn, the townships work with the legislators on local issues. It is a mutually beneficial relationship with a constant two-way flow of information, he adds.

"The Grassroots Network, coupled with a strong relationship with local legislators, has the potential to be a very a powerful tool," says Joe Dunbar, manager for Lower Providence Township in Montgomery County and a member of PSATS' Grassroots Lobbying Network.

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