Candidates discuss Right to Know Law

Incumbent state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, is a native of Westfield. He represents the 68th Legislative District, which consists of both Tioga and western Bradford counties, in the state Legislature, and is seeking the Republican nomination in the May 20 primary election.

Jon Ruth, D-Covington, teaches music in kindergarten through 12th grade in the Southern Tioga School District. He is seeking the Democrat nomination to represent the 68th Legislative District in the May 20 primary election.

Rep. Michael K. Hanna Sr., D-Lock Haven, was born in Lock Haven, and has served the people of the 76th Legislative District, which consists of Clinton County and parts of Centre County, since 1991. He is seeking the Democrat nomination in the May 20 primary election. Hanna did not respond to the questions for this article.

Question: Do you believe that Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law goes far enough in ensuring that government’s records are open to the public? How would you change it?

Baker: “I have not heard of any complaints by my constituents over the last 22 years about that. If anything, I hear that it goes too far now. I hear from townships and public entities that believe that some people are making unreasonable requests for records and it is an unfunded mandate costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in their budgets. The director of open records in Pennsylvania acknowledges that some people who have personal beefs with individuals will make unreasonable, redundant and excessive requests over and over again that could be hundreds of pages long, costing a lot of money to make these copies. I’ve also heard complaints from law enforcement and school districts because of concerns over domestic violence and sometimes I have heard from people that have been involved in very sensitive delicate crimes such as domestic violence and they don’t want their addresses to be known. There is a real push right now to exempt law enforcement, judges and probation officers’ addresses because there is a real fear by some of retribution. There are all kinds of confidential informant and witness protection issues that could put people in harm’s way. These kinds of things make it hard on public officials when there is abuse of the system and unintended consequences.

“I think overall the law we have is working, but if we can make reasonable improvements or changes, I would certainly be open to considering it.”

Ruth: “I would look at updating the law as far as using available technology to get access to information. I would always look at making the law easier to give people access to information they are allowed to have.”

Hanna: No response

Question: Do you believe that records relating to the work that government contractors do for the government should be accessible?

Baker: “Yes, anytime public funding is expended, there should be as much transparency and accountability as possible as long as there is a proper balance between privacy. My only exception would be to make sure that when dates of birth and Social Security numbers are involved that they remain private to protect from identity theft. This issue is always brought up, and I am in favor of full accessibility and accountability.”

Ruth: “Yes, as long as personal, private information isn’t violated, I think people have the right to know how their tax money is being spent and where it is going.”

Hanna: No response