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A victory for government transparency

One of the biggest frustrations we have faced during this pandemic is a lack of effective communication from the Wolf administration. The orders issued by the governor and the secretary of Health have been life-changing for families, employees and business owners, and they have left many citizens struggling to keep their businesses afloat or to put food on their tables — or both.

Sadly, the administration has declined to answer key questions about WHY they have made certain decisions and HOW they arrived at those conclusions. Our citizens deserve better — and Gov. Tom Wolf has finally relented and agreed.

After threatening multiple times to veto legislation to ensure Right-to-Know (RTK) requests are handled promptly during times of emergency, the governor has allowed House Bill 2436 to become law without his signature. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement, and it’s clear from the governor’s own statement about the bill (he called it “thoughtless” and “foolish”) his heart isn’t in it. But he also realized that when a government transparency bill passes both the House and Senate by a unanimous, bipartisan vote, and when the media and the public are loudly calling for him to sign the bill, he doesn’t really have any choice but to make it law.

And the fact that it’s law is all that really matters.

Back in March, when the governor sent state workers home to work remotely, he also gave them and his own office a pass when it came to responding to RTK requests. He argued, among other things, that responding to such requests could put state workers at risk of contracting the virus. This left members of the public, the press and even the Legislature without access to important information and without any recourse to try to obtain it.

Pennsylvanians have been denied access to information about the business waiver program, detailed data about case recoveries, testing plans and criteria for reopening areas of the state, just to name a few.

At times like this, when the level of tension is very high and the level of trust is very low, we need to be more transparent, not less.

There is no question the pandemic has created a series of unprecedented challenges for which there is no playbook about how to handle them. The governor has said more than once that his administration may not get it right all the time, and that’s understandable given the fact we’ve never been in a situation like this.

But as the leader of our Commonwealth, he needs to be prepared to fully answer questions about his actions and those of his secretary of Health and others. When you keep “moving the goalposts,” people deserve to know why.

Thank you to everyone here and across the state who stood together calling for openness and transparency. “We the people” deserve to know not only what government is doing, but why and how it’s being done. I’m pleased the governor listened and allowed this bill to become law. With the law in place, I look forward to learning more about the rationale behind his administration’s decision-making during the pandemic.

State Rep. Clint Owlett is a Republican representing Tioga, Bradford and Potter counties.

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