Wolf lets GOP-authored open records bill lapse into law without his signature | Monday Morning Coffee

Gov. Tom Wolf signed two bills increasing police training and reforming police hiring Tuesday. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Waiting until the very last second, Gov. Tom Wolf has let a controversial government transparency bill lapse into law without his signature, ending, at least for now, the debate over one of the more polarizing aspects of the York County Democrat’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was no secret that Wolf opposed the bill, authored by Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, that would have required the governor — and his successors — to continue processing open records requests during a state of emergency. The bill won the unanimous approval of both the state House and Senate, as the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso earlier reported.

Wolf had sat on the bill for the constitutionally allowable 10 days, amid speculation of a looming gubernatorial veto, before blasting out a statement shortly after 7 p.m. on Sunday.

“My administration has expressed deep concerns with forcing commonwealth employees to physically come to an office to process records requests under dangerous conditions,” Wolf said in a lengthy statement released by his office. “We have gone above and beyond to provide information to the legislature and public throughout the pandemic, including the data that drive​ our decision making.

On Saturday, “the Office of Open Records provided some assurance that they will draft guidelines to keep the commonwealth’s dedicated public servants safe.” Wolf’s statement continues. “While I am still very concerned about the ill-conceived and poorly drafted legislation as it pertains to protections for critical security and infrastructure during an emergency, I am going to err on the side of transparency, as I have done throughout my term, and let this bill become law.

But “because the legislation is so poorly drafted, I also am stating my understanding that it simply clarifies that various data and models related to a disaster declaration are public records, so long as those records are not exempt from release under the existing Right-to-Know Law, including exemptions necessary to protect the safety and security of state infrastructure and those related to the pre-deliberative process of state agencies and officials,” the statement reads.

Pa. House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Seth M. Grove, R-York (center) leads a Capitol news conference on bills aimed at curbing Medicaid fraud. Grove was joined by a bipartisan coalition including (from left in front) state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York; Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery; state Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, and Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks. At Grove’s right is Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

In a statement released just before 9 p.m., Grove called the administration’s decision a win for the taxpayers.

“For the past week or so, Gov. Tom Wolf has touted his reasons why he would veto House Bill 2463, all of which were debunked. At the same time, numerous stakeholders, such as newspapers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, and members of the House and Senate vocally raised their concerns on what a veto would mean for transparency in the Commonwealth,” the statement reads, in part. “It would have meant the administration and state agencies under its umbrella could ignore valid questions from the public and the press.”

The bill, Grove continued, “has a simple goal: To ensure the public has a route to hold its government accountable, even in times when a state of emergency declaration has been declared. A crisis is no reason for elected officials to ignore questions from the public.

Wolf’s office stopped processing open records requests shortly after the Democrat’s office declared a state of emergency in March, arguing that it was shorthanded and didn’t want to compromise the safety of state workers by calling them into work to process those requests. Grove introduced his bill in April, even as Wolf’s office began processing those requests again.

The unanimous vote represented a rare rebuke from legislative Democrats, who are usually loathe to break with the administration on Republican-authored proposals.

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

Our Stuff.
Associate Editor Cassie Miller
 leads our coverage this morning with an in-depth look at how Pennsylvania’s court system is handling animal abuses cases in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

Remote learning is gaining steam in Pennsylvania’s largest school systemsElizabeth Hardison explains what’s happening and what’s at stake as the start of the new school year closes in.

In Philadelphia, Black leaders are working to get out the vote in an election like no other, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman offers three arguments for why Joe Biden is, well, trumping Donald TrumpMichael Froehlich of Community Legal Services goes deep on the risks facing homeowners of color during the pandemic.

En la Estrella-Capital, PennDOT va a ofrecer la designación ‘no binaria’ en licencias y tarjetas de identificación. Y la administración de Trump excluye a los inmigrantes indocumentados del proceso de reasignación del censo.

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

Elsewhere.
SEPTA
 requires face masks of its riders. Riders actually complying? Well, that’s another issue, the Inquirer reports.
Pittsburgh City Council has approved a fall ballot question asking citizens if a police review board should be strengthenedPittsburgh City Paper reports.
PennLive talks to college students looking ahead to a very strange fall semester.
The Morning Call talks to Lehigh Valley teachers who are nervous about the state of the fall semester.
Luzerne County Council is set to vote on a proposed property tax extension, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

More people are visiting Pennsylvania’s state parks — but who’s keeping an eye on safety? WHYY-FM has the story.
Centre County saw its biggest one day increases in COVID-19 cases on Sunday, WPSU-FM reports. 
Some states are using their COVID-19 relief money to keep down business taxesStateline.org reports.
Cities and advocates are suing the Trump administration over a memo announcing that undocumented immigrants would not be counted toward congressional apportionment, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House Democratic Policy Committee meets at 2 p.m in G50 Irvis.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to Mark Scolforo, of the Associated Press’ Harrisburg Bureau, who celebrated on Sunday.

Heavy Rotation.
Like the rest of the known universe, we spent much of the weekend burrowing into the new Taylor Swift long-player “folklore,” which has turned out to be the quarantine record we were waiting for. Here’s one of the standout tracks, “the 1.”

Monday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Baltimore 
got past Boston 7-4 on Sunday night. So, huzzah!

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press