PHEAA To Pay Legal Fees in RTK Case; New Law Expected Today?

Attorney says major changes are coming to RTK in Pennsylvania.

(Harrisburg, Pa.) – A Commonwealth Court found PHEAA, the state student-loan agency, “willfully disregarded the Right-to-Know Law” in fighting media requests for expenditure records, which included “lavish board expenditures,” and said there was no legitimate reason for PHEAA to delay access to these records for 20 months.

The court decision, issued Friday, ordered the agency to pay $48,000 in legal fees incurred by The Associated Press, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg and Pittsburgh TV station WTAE.

Harrisburg attorney Craig J. Staudenmaier, who represented media claims in the case, said he is gratified with the court’s decision and that Pennsylvanians should expect important changes in the way the public can access information from government across the state.

“This is an important decision in terms of expanding public access to government information.” Staudenmaier said in Harrisburg today. “The Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, currently under revision in the legislature, will significantly impact the way government, at all levels in Pennsylvania, provide access to public information in the future. This decision helps put teeth into that law.”

When asked to discuss the impact of RTK, Staudenmaier, a partner in the Harrisburg law firm of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, said that it is likely every level of government — townships, municipalities, borough and counties — will have to reassess how they provide access to the public. “Also, corporations and private entities, who seek access to information, will be impacted through various changes in request procedures.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the bill reportedly hammered out differences on Monday, and a vote is expected in the Senate later today.

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