PA is a sunshine state. This requires by statute that government meetings are open to the public. This critically important concept ensures elected officials are transparent and accountable to voters.
PA’s sunshine laws require elected officials conduct official action and conduct deliberations leading up to official actions in the sunshine.
There are only a few justifications for holding private executive sessions. These include: Personnel matters, discussion of pending litigation, considering the purchasing or lease of land and labor and arbitration issues.
H.B. 1671 sponsored by Rep. Rick Saccone (R), would more stringently define when a public body could enter private executive session meetings to conduct business. In recent testimony considering the bill widespread abuse of executive sessions was revealed across the Commonwealth.
“The committee heard very detailed and disturbing testimony from reporters, organizations and citizens about instances where public bodies improperly went into executive session to circumvent Sunshine Law,” said Saccone. “Abuse of executive session privilege appears to be widespread, with government entities apparently calling private meetings outside the bounds of the law Action clearly needs to be taken.” – Rep. Rick Saccone
House Bill 1671 would streamline the definitions of instances when executive session can be used. It would also require an audio recording of the executive session so if an allegation arises that the meeting was improperly held, it can be verified later by a judge.
I support HB 1671. The package proposes changes to sunshine laws that would make it more difficult to circumvent the intent. This is needed.
Another important component is requirement to record executive sessions. These would be held in a “lockbox” for one year and would only be available to a a judge with a court order. This would definitely curb violations and certain widespread liberties being taken by giving residents a tool to ensure conversations in back rooms stay on topic.
I know first hand, that the very wide berth given by current definitions allows any good municipal solicitor to justify almost any reason for elected officials to retreat into private session.
*It’s important to note that proposed recordings would not be subject to right to know requests. They would only have to be made available to a judge by court order.
*Local Lehigh Valley Reps Justin Simmons (R), and Michael Schlossberg (D) both sit on the state government committee.
More information: Open-government advocates push to end executive session abuse.
Shedding light on the Sunshine Act – Transparent times: A publication of the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee