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Sunshine Act amendment supported by local lawmakers

Local lawmakers are behind recently passed legislation expected to bring better transparency to government meetings.

Senate Bill 554 amended the Sunshine Act to require agencies to provide meeting agendas in advance of and during public meetings.

“Anytime we can make government more transparent and more open to the taxpayers, we should be doing that,” state Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township, said. “I think it’s a good piece of legislation.”

The law also limits actions an agency can take on non-agenda matters. And, it allows an agency to amend the agenda during a public meeting and subsequently take official action, but only if a majority of the agency members present vote to do so.

The legislation was passed unanimously by both Houses and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, agreed the goal of the bill was to bring about improved transparency in government.

He said it’s a positive step forward for media coverage.

“Newspapers should be happy about this,” he said.

And, Wheeland said, the public will most certainly benefit from the legislation.

“I mean, how many times do people go to meetings and they don’t know what is going to be talked about? This way they can know ahead of time what will be talked about,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing for the public to know what is going to be on the agenda rather than miss something that is important to them.”

The bill calls for information to be posted on the agency’s website not later than 24 hours before the meeting is scheduled to take place. In addition, the agenda must be posted at the meeting location and be made available to those attending the meeting.

Wheeland said he was opposed to the bill until provisions were included to allow for government boards to make much-needed decisions on non-agenda issues in emergency situations.

As a former county commissioner, he can recall such situations related to public safety that required immediate attention.

Hamm said there didn’t seem to be any real pushback from anyone in getting the legislation passed.

“I think at the end of 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 Reps. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, and Stephanie Borowicz, R-Lock Haven, could not be reached for this story.

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