- The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records granted an appeal to Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon), after a Right-to-Know request he filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, seeking justification for delaying the re-opening of Lebanon County businesses, was denied.
“When Philadelphia businesses were permitted to open before businesses in much-smaller Lebanon County under Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-tier COVID-19 mitigation plan, I was determined to find out why,” Ryan said. “I filed a Right-to-Know request with the Pennsylvania Department of Health in August, demanding to know what criteria the Wolf administration used in its decision. I wanted to see the public health data and models the administration used to determine that Philadelphia could move to the “green” phase before Lebanon County.”
When a response was not forthcoming in the required five days, and therefore by law deemed denied, Ryan appealed to the state Office of Open Records. When the department’s response finally did arrive, it offered excuses for the delay and did not sufficiently answer Ryan’s questions. In fact, the department used the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955 (DPCL), Pennsylvania’s public health law, as its rationale for withholding records from Ryan. The department considers most records produced under the DPCL as confidential. While not specifying which records it considers confidential, the department denied Ryan’s request. However, the Office of Open Records ruled that broad, non-specific denials such as this are not permitted under the Right-to-Know Law. It has given the department 30 days to comply.
After several weeks of arbitrary and confusing executive orders that were largely unexplained and forced the shutdown of businesses and put people out of work, Ryan and several of his Republican colleagues moved to pass Act 77 of 2020
. Citing a glaring lack of transparency on the part of the Wolf administration, the bill strengthened Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law by clarifying what information shall be considered a public record during a disaster declaration and requiring disclosure of the process used to collect data and any models produced to establish rules and policies in a disaster declaration.
“My colleagues and I have been frustrated by the administration’s general lack of transparency during this pandemic,” said Ryan. “The public and our small businesses have been forced to make significant sacrifices, while the administration made arbitrary decisions that picked winners and losers. Delaying the re-opening of Lebanon County is a prime example.
“I am pleased my appeal was successful, and I am anxiously awaiting the department’s compliance with the ruling. The workers and business owners who have been hurt by the Wolf administration’s orders deserve to see the justification for its decisions.”
Representative Frank Ryan
101st Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Donna Pinkham