Modern records: It’s time for Pennsylvania to join the 21st century

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It’s been more than 100 years since microfilm was the hot new method for storing vast quantities of information in relatively small spaces, but Pennsylvania’s 67 counties still are required to operate as if that’s the best option.

State law requires that court records be stored and preserved either on paper or microfilm, even if counties have and use optical imaging in which files are scanned and stored electronically. The law demands cumbersome, costly storage, forces counties to maintain a great deal of space for the documents and makes it difficult for individuals and businesses to access the documents.

Senate Bill 372 offers a half-step of progress. It would give counties the option of storing court records electronically.

Kate Barkman, director of Allegheny County’s Department of Court Records, certainly would like that. Without a change in law, the county will have to continue storing records in the courthouse on Grant Street and at facilities on the North Side, in Clarion County and elsewhere through the Iron Mountain Inc. storage company. All that space costs money, and the county estimates it could save $230,000 a year if it could switch to electronic storage.

County manager William McKain says the bill is one of his top legislative priorities, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania supports it, too.

The downside to SB 372 is that it doesn’t go far enough. Instead of giving counties the option of modernizing their record-keeping, the state should require it. Lawmakers would not have to mandate immediate compliance. They could amend the bill so that counties have a deadline of, say, 10 years to complete the job.

Pennsylvanians have come to expect easy access to information from their banks, credit card companies, utilities and other businesses. They shouldn’t have to wait much longer, or continue to pay extra, before getting the same efficiency from county governments.

First Published March 14, 2014 12:00 AM

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