Legislative Alert: House Bill 1310

  • Oct 09, 2015

Paula Knudsen, Director, Government Affairs, Legislative Counsel

The House is scheduled on Monday, Oct. 5, to vote on second consideration on House Bill 1310.

Action Needed:  Please consider editorializing on this topic as well as contacting your representative to voice your opposition to this bill. Find your representative here

House Bill 1310, authored by Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia), would prohibit release of “identifying information” in 911 calls. “Identifying information” in HB 1310 is defined as the name, telephone number, address and location of any call or caller.  PNA opposes HB 1310 as an unnecessary and inappropriate restriction on the public’s right to know. 

The Right to Know Law protects “records or parts of records, except time response logs…” pertaining to emergency dispatch calls, except that an agency or a court may find that the public interest in disclosure of a 911 recording or transcript of a call outweighs the interest in nondisclosure.  Access to time response logs, as written in the act and affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, presumes that members of the public have a significant interest in learning how much time elapsed between the receipt of a 911 call and the arrival at the scene of police, fire, or ambulance services.  Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court confirmed a determination by the Office of Open Records that “time response logs” are presumptively open in order to allow the public to evaluate the efficiency of emergency responders.

House Bill 1310 is intended to override the presumption of access confirmed by the Court by blocking access, under Pennsylvania’s emergency services statutes, to any “identifying information” relevant in any call --  specifically the name, telephone number, address and location of any call or caller. 

Incident addresses have long been public in police blotters and court records and are easily heard through police scanners, owned and used by individuals across the Commonwealth. The advent of social media has made citizen communication about incidents even more common, with observers posting on social media information about police, fire and other incidents that they observe in a public location.

 More importantly, though, disclosure of cross streets allows citizens to measure the adequacy and timing of response by 911 call centers and emergency services.  Without any geographical information, there is no way to determine whether a response time was slow or fast – and no way to measure whether response times vary between socioeconomic areas. 

Call response logs for 911 calls are available only after an incident of any kind – be it fire, a health emergency, or domestic violence – has occurred.  Blocking the public’s access to information about cross street location after an incident has happened does nothing to improve safety for victims or the general public. 

Further, the Right to Know Law already protects records that, if disclosed, would threaten an individual’s physical safety.  Creating a blanket exemption for “identifying information,” as provided in this bill, is both unnecessary and overbroad.  It would eliminate any public oversight of the emergency response system and significantly undervalue the important public policy supporting disclosure of this basic information.

 For more information on PNA’s position, contact Paula Knudsen, Director of Government Affairs/Legislative Counsel: (717) 951-6314 or paulak@pa-news.org.

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