New Pa. law imposes tougher public meeting requirements | Wednesday Morning Coffee

July 7, 2021 7:16 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: As the level of government that’s closest to the people, local school boards and township commissioners may well be the most consequential level of government. But, for a variety of reasons, they also can be among the most difficult for the public to understand and hold accountable.

A new law may go some distance to resolve that tension. A state Senate bill that Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law last week requires state and local governments, as well as local school boards, to post their meeting agendas online no later than 24 hours before the start of any public meeting.

Now, this may not seem like such a big deal.

But in modern life, with people racing to and from work, sports practices, piano lessons, and other commitments, it’s not unusual for folks to catch wind of important local developments at the very last second, or alternately, for local government to move at the last second.

And then you wake up the next morning and find they’re moving to demolish the beloved local monument, have approved a massive retail development, or, in our pandemic-era, imposed new remote learning rules.

“As Pennsylvanians become more interested in governing, we must ensure they are provided with information about what will be considered to effectively participate in the issues that matter to them,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Patrick J. Stefano, R-Fayettewrote in a March 17 memo to colleagues seeking support for his proposal.

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In a statement, state Office of Open Records Executive Director Liz Wagenseller called the new law “a positive step” toward improving government accountability and transparency.

“The opportunity to review an agenda before a public meeting is a positive step towards increasing government accountability and citizen participation,” Wagenseller said. “Access to timely and relevant information is crucial to promoting open and knowledgeable dialogue between citizens and government officials, and we look forward to the continued work of the Legislature to improve government responsiveness and transparency.”

And if this has piqued your interest in the doings of local government or Pennsylvania’s open records law (and I hope it has), the Office of Open Records is holding a training session on the state’s Right-to-Know Law today (July 7) at 10 a.m.

You can view the PowerPoint presentation for the session here, and watch the webinar for the session here. Or you can always kick it old-school and just listen to the audio by calling (267) 332-8737. The conference ID is 783481875.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
A law that Gov. Tom Wolf signed last week likely will open Pennsylvania to the next generation of wireless internet and cell phone servicesStephen Caruso reports.

In the aftermath of Bill Cosby’s release from prison, the top members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee are drafting legislation that would require all future non-prosecution agreements to be in writing in order to be enforceable, Marley Parish reports.

The hunger strike by more than 20 incarcerated men at the State Correctional Institution-Phoenix in Montgomery County over prolonged solitary confinement is now over. Organizers are declaring victory, Capital-Star Correspondent Josh Vaughn reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Pat Beaty, of the good government group FairDistricts PA, reminds legislative Republicans that just because you can amend the state Constitution doesn’t mean you should do it. And Mary Collier, of the youth-centered environmental group, The Sunrise Movement, says Pennsylvania would benefit from a robust and resurrected Civilian Conservation Corps.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, talk before a press conference on voting rights on June 9, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

As he buried a relative, state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, again sounded the call for an end to gun violence, the Inquirer reports.

Facing complaints from activists, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and City Council are drawing up plans to spend COVID-19 relief funds, the Post-Gazette reports.

Parents must decide soon if they want to take advantage of a new state law allowing their children to repeat a grade because of the pandemic, PennLive reports (paywall).

Neighbors of a prospective prison are worried whether it will impact their quality of lifeLancasterOnline reports.

The FBI are investigating a York County judicial candidate, the York Daily Record reports (paywall).

You’ll be paying more for Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls in 2022, the Morning Call reports.

Luzerne County’s former children & youth director has been charged with child endangerment, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

WHYY-FM has its story about Philadelphia lawmakers’ plea for an end to gun violence in the city.

A new report highlights how Pennsylvania could help coal communities by joining a regional cap-and-trade programStateImpact Pennsylvania reports.

Fireworks calls kept Erie police busy over the holiday weekendGoErie reports.

Washington County President Judge John DiSalle has threatened to hold Clerk of Courts Brenda Davis in contempt if her office doesn’t cooperate with changes in the county’s Adult Probation Office, the Observer-Reporter reports.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, who’s also running for U.S. Senate, talks to City & State PA about his plans for a ‘Civilian Democracy Corps.’

Carla Sands, a Cumberland County resident who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark under the Trump administration, has launched her candidacy for U.S. SenatePoliticsPA reports. looks at the critical piece of infrastructure missing from many low-income neighborhoods: Trees.

Roll Call takes stock of the Senate appropriations earmark requests.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing meets at 9 a.m. this morning in 523 Irvis Office Building.

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to York for a 1:15 p.m stop at Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy, where he’ll talk about education funding increases in this year’s state budget.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Chris Krewson, the executive director of LION Publishers, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, old friend.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a song that just sounds like summer: From English vocalist Elisabeth Troy, formerly of Clean Bandit, it’s ‘Your Kissing’.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link
The Orioles got past the Blue Jays 7-5 on Monday night. The Os’ Spencer Watkins, a 30th round pick for Detroit in 2014,  notched his first big league win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.