Senate committee endorses expanded Right-to-Know rules for 4 state-related universities

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The Senate State Government Committee today unanimously approved legislation that would expand requirements for the four state-related universities under the state Open Records.

The proposed legislation would apply to the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, Temple University and Lincoln University .The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

It would require the schools to provide searchable, sortable and downloadable databases on their public websites, including financial information and aggregated nonpersonal employee and student data, according to a news release.

The latest version of the bill was not immediately available on the web.

If the universities have more than 2,500 employees, they would have to reveal the top 200 salaries instead of just the 25 now required. The lower requirement would continue to apply to schools with fewer than 2,500 employees.

Information on contracts worth $5,000 or more would have to be posted on the state's online contract database.

In a news release, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, who plans to work on the legislation throughout the summer, said, “For the first time, the public will have easy online access to detailed budget and academic data for Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln. Given the level of public support that goes to these universities every year, it makes perfect sense to take this important step.”

Also in the news release, committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, said, “In recent years, citizens have seen too much of the serious ethical problems and the scandals that secrecy is conducive to."

In the news release, Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, Democratic chair of the committee, said, “This is an important step in providing greater transparency and accountability in how significant public funds are being spent, This was a collaborative bipartisan effort to ensure that state tax dollars are best serving students of the commonwealth.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre County, has been making a push on the House side regarding those universities and the Right-to Know Law. His legislation would go even further, treating those universities the same as the 14 state-owned universities of the State System of Higher Education.

Rep. Conklin said he’s heartened by today’s news from the Senate. “I support any effort we can do that brings us closer to where I want these universities to be,” he said in a phone interview.

And he hopes it might increase the odds he may finally get a vote on his own long-delayed Right to Know legislation and a companion act that would require trustee board members of those universities to fill out an ethics form that would reveal any financial conflicts of interest.

He said both bills have been stuck in the House State Committee on Government, whose majority chair is Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County. “They’ve been sitting there for a year now. We can’t even get a hearing,” he said.

Mr. Conklin said the legislation would improve government accountability but would also protect privacy of donors and proprietary research information.

Kate Giammarise contributed. Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955 and on Twitter: @Eleanor_Chute. Bill Schackner: 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BSchacknerPG First Published June 18, 2014 12:00 AM

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