Legislative Alert: House Bill 1310 -- Vote set for March 22

  • Mar 21, 2016

Legislative Alert: House Bill 1310

The Senate Veteran’s Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee is scheduled to hold a voting meeting on House Bill 1310 on Tuesday, March 22.

House Bill 1310, authored by Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia), would prohibit release of “identifying information” in 911 calls, including 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. 

Action Needed:  Please contact committee members to voice your opposition to this bill, and consider editorializing on this topic.  Find committee members here

The Right to Know Law already protects most records relating to 911 calls, except where an agency or court finds that the public interest in disclosure outweighs any interest in nondisclosure.  Current law also makes “time response logs” public, which are records that show the time and location of 911 calls and the corresponding emergency response.  Access to time response logs, as written in the act and affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, recognizes that there is a significant public 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.  Obviously, some basic location information is critical in evaluating the adequacy of the emergency response, and Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court has confirmed that address or cross street information in “time response logs” is public.

House Bill 1310 is intended to override this decision by blocking access, under Pennsylvania’s emergency services statutes, to any “identifying information” in emergency dispatch calls -- 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 response location 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 in different neighborhoods or 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 response 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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