MAY 23, 2024

The House was in session this week. Both legislative chambers return to Harrisburg on June 3.

Seating of new legislator creates a full House

On Tuesday, Rep. Jeff Olsommer (R-Pike/Wayne) was sworn into office to represent the139th Legislative District. The new state lawmaker will fill the remaining term of former Rep. Joe Adams, who resigned in February. Olsommer is expected to run for his first full term in November. In the meantime, he will serve on the Insurance, Children & Youth, Game & Fisheries, and Housing & Community Development committees. His addition to the House gives Democrats a razor-thin majority over Republicans at 102-101. However, Rep. Joe Kerwin (R-Dauphin) is currently on leave; his deployment with the Pennsylvania National Guard drops Republican voting numbers to 100. Read more from CNHINews.

Bill would require detailed disclosure of AI content

Sen. Jimmy Dillon (D-Philadelphia) filed SB 1044, a bill that would prohibit “knowingly or recklessly creating, distributing or publishing any content generated by artificial intelligence without clear and conspicuous disclosure, including written text, images, audio and video content and other forms of media.’’ The disclosure would be required to “state that the content was generated using (AI), must be presented in a manner reasonably understandable and readily noticeable to the consumer and must be presented in the same medium as the content.’’

May I quote you?

“There are people who think they know the answers before they embark on the reporting, and I think that’s a problem for our profession. We need to go into stories with an open mind with a recognition that we don’t know everything. In fact, we don’t know all that much, and we may not even know what we think we know.’’

Advocate for seeking truth over “moral clarity’’ Marty Baron, who led Pulitzer Prize-winning newsrooms at The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, as reported by The Harvard Gazette.

MAY 16, 2024

The General Assembly was not in session this week. The House will return to Harrisburg on Monday for non-voting session and will have regular session on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Senate will reconvene on June 3.

House adopts resolution requiring study on use of body-worn camera footage

Rep. Christopher Rabb’s (D-Phila.) resolution, HR 113, which sought a study conducted by the Joint State Government Commission on how body-worn camera footage can be more effectively used to provide positive and safe outcomes for both law enforcement officers and civilians, was adopted in the House last week. In his resolution, Rep. Rabb stated that “[i]t is vital that body-worn camera footage be available to the prosecution, defense, and public as necessary to aid in the speedy and just resolution of criminal cases.”

Memo on cameras in the courtroom has public support

Rep. Jamie Flick (R-Lycoming/Union) recently filed a co-sponsor memorandum seeking to authorize cameras in the courtroom. Rep. Flick, along with Rep. Mike Cabell (R-Luzerne), Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne), Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-Wayne/Susquehanna), and Rep. Alec Ryncavage (R-Luzerne), has filed a new co-sponsor memorandum on the topic. This memo notes that Rep. Flick’s survey in Williamsport reported that 92% of his constituents believe that there should be cameras in the courtroom.

Representative seeks public input on state-related school funding

Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Fulton) has indicated in a co-sponsor memorandum that he intends to introduce legislation which would establish the Performance-based Funding Council in order to ensure that all funds invested in state-related schools provide the best possible outcome for students, families, and taxpayers. Under the contemplated legislation, the council would hold public hearings at each state-related university to receive input from experts, parents, and students to ensure that a new funding system to be developed by the council would be developed with transparency, considering the needs and concerns of key stakeholders.

May I quote you?

“I see journalism as a calling like teaching and view it as a critical part of our democracy. People rely on trusted reporters to provide accurate information about the world about them.”

Dave Martens, immediate past chairman of the PNA Foundation Board of Trustees, speaking with PNA recently about what caused him to get into the news media industry.

MAY 9, 2024

Both the House and the Senate were in session this week. The House will return to Harrisburg on May 20, and the Senate will reconvene on June 3.

Bill to shield coroners’ records moves out of committee

HB 1926, which was filed by Rep. Carol Hill-Evans (D-York), was voted favorably out of the House State Government Committee on Tuesday despite PNA’s opposition. We will continue to oppose the bill in the House, and in the Senate, too, if necessary. The legislation was up for first consideration that same day but has not yet moved further. It would do away with public access to coroners’ records, permitting release of only name, cause, date, and manner of death, in accordance with the Right-to-Know Law, which is in the case of coroners records actually more restrictive than the current County Code provisions governing these records.

Handheld cell phone bill heads to governor

On Tuesday, the Senate concurred in the House’s amendments to SB 37, filed by Sen. Rosemary Brown (R-Lackawanna/Monroe/Wayne). The bill was also further amended by the Senate in the Senate Rules & Executive Nominations Committee on Monday to tweak the definition of “interactive mobile device.” The bill returned to the House, which concurred in the Senate’s further amendments on Wednesday. This legislation prohibits the use of handheld cell phones and similar devices while operating a motor vehicle, and it was amended in the House Transportation Committee in late March to add a provision which would require data collection for self-initiated traffic stops and an annual publication of aggregated data from these collections. That same amendment added language that makes the data collected nonpublic under the Right-to-Know Law. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Representative seeks more transparency on legislators’ financial interests

Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford and Erie) has filed HB 2262, which would expand legislators’ financial disclosure requirements. The bill would expand Title 65’s statement of financial interest requirements to include information regarding a public officer’s direct and indirect ownership interest in the stock of a business that has an official state designation. In his co-sponsor memorandum, Rep. Roae indicated that his motivation for the bill is the power that legislators have to benefit certain companies, pointing to a jump in the price of Hershey stock after the House voted to make the Hershey kiss the official state candy of Pennsylvania.

May I quote you?

“If left undisturbed, the decision will not only keep a gag on Mr. Kratovil, but also have a devastating effect on reporters and members of the public who rely upon them to hold public officials accountable. Without intervention from the Supreme Court, journalists and news organizations would be chilled from reporting on official misconduct and other issues of critical public importance.”

Alexander Shalom, the ACLU-NJ’s director of Supreme Court advocacy, quoted in a New Jersey Monitor article regarding a New Jersey state appellate panel’s rejection of a constitutional challenge to a law shielding public officials’ addresses.

MAY 2, 2024

Both the House and the Senate were in session this week, and both will return to session on Monday.

DOE Secretary speaks at Press Club luncheon

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Khalid Mumin spoke at the Pennsylvania Press Club’s monthly luncheon on Monday. Mumin spoke about education proposals in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget, and also addressed the controversial school voucher program, which was a focus of budget negotiations last summer, saying the idea was not entirely dead. For more on Mumin’s remarks, read PennLive’s coverage.

Vexatious requester bill moves out of committee

SB 525, introduced by Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron, Centre, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Mckean), was voted favorably out of the Senate State Government committee on Tuesday. The bill would permit agencies to petition the Office of Open Records for relief from requests from what the agencies allege are “vexatious requesters,” a term that is not explicitly defined in the bill. The legislation requires that the petition to label an individual a “vexatious requester” include alleged conduct that might “demonstrate vexatiousness,” which could consist of: the number of requests filed; the total number of pending requests; the scope of the requests; the nature, content, language or subject matter of the requests; the nature, content, language or subject matter of other oral or written communications to the agency; conduct which allegedly places an unreasonable burden on the agency; and conduct that allegedly harasses the agency. The bill was up for first consideration on Tuesday and has not moved further at this time. PNA is working with legislators and staffers to protect our members’ interests with regard to this legislation.

Senate bill seeks to make PSBA subject to RTKL

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) filed SB 1183 on Wednesday. The bill seeks to amend the Right-to-Know Law to add the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to the definition of “state-affiliated entity.” This addition would mean that PSBA would be subject to the RTKL and thus could receive records requests from the media and the public, subject to the law’s parameters. In her related co-sponsor memorandum, Sen. Phillips-Hill states PSBA renders assistance to school boards and “[t]he information the association possesses and shares with school boards helps to frame curriculums, budgets, and policies and should be transparently available to the public. They deserve to know where and how their tax dollars are spent.” The senator also points to the fact the PSBA is a member of PSERS, and the recent PA Supreme Court decision that found the PIAA to be subject to the RTKL.

House committee holds informational meeting on student journalism protections

The House Education Committee held an informational meeting on imagination libraries and student journalism protections on Monday. HB 1309, introduced by Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester), was discussed at great length during the meeting. This bill would protect student journalists’ constitutional right to speak as well as their audience’s right to receive information without undue government interference. Testifiers at the meeting included: Ben Shapiro, student journalist and editor-in-chief of The Spoke, Conestoga High School’s student newspaper; Cyndi Hyatt, PA state director of the Journalism Education Association; and Aaron Fitzpatrick, president, Pennsylvania School Press Association. PNA is supportive of this legislation. To watch the informational meeting in its entirety, visit the House Education Committee’s website.

May I quote you?

“Journalism is the bedrock of democracy, and student journalism is where it all begins.”

Ben Shapiro, student journalist and editor-in-chief of The Spoke, Conestoga High School’s student newspaper, speaking during a House Education Committee informational meeting on student journalism protections.

APRIL 25, 2024

Both the House and the Senate will return to Harrisburg this coming Monday, April 29. The Pennsylvania primary election was held this Tuesday, April 23.

Republicans hold onto seat in the special election for the 139th district

Republican Jeff Olsommer has won the special election held on Tuesday for the 139th district of Pennsylvania, which covers portions of Wayne and Pike counties. Olsommer defeated Democrat Robin Skibber in the special election to determine who will finish out former Rep. Joe Adams (R)’s term. Adams resigned in February for medical reasons. This means that Democrats will not increase their razor-thin majority of 102-101 in the House. Olsommer also defeated Republican Matthew Contreras in the GOP primary election Tuesday, so he will go on to face Skibber again in the November general election for the 2025-26 legislative session. Read more regarding the 139th district here and regarding the primary election in general from PennLive.

Representative’s personal and legal woes may lead to another special election

Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) caused a maelstrom in the House last week when he was absent and seeking to vote by designation on the House floor while there was an active warrant for his arrest. The warrant has since been canceled, but Republicans are still calling for a change, via a House resolution that is not yet filed but will be HR 401 – introduced by Rep. Charity Krupa (R-Fayette), to the House rules so that a legislator in Boyle’s situation cannot vote by designation. Despite the warrant’s cancelation, it is possible that the situation will still lead to Boyle’s resignation, which would result in a special election, likely at the height of summer, with the Democratic majority in the House at stake again. Boyle was defeated in this week’s Democratic primary, which determines the candidates for the upcoming 2025-26 legislative session, by challenger Sean Dougherty, so it is certain that Boyle will not hold onto his seat in the long term. Read more on yesterday’s results from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Legislator seeks greater transparency for unemployment compensation program

SB 1177, introduced by Senator Cris Dush (R-Cameron, Centre, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Mckean, and Potter), would amend the Unemployment Compensation Law to require online posting of the annual report on the financial operations of the program. It would also require that the report include detailed information regarding the numbers and percentages of unemployed workers, job losers, discouraged workers, and marginally attached workers.

House resolution aims for greater transparency and accountability

Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) has filed HR 401, which urges the House of Representatives to restrict the times of day in which legislative votes may be cast and prohibit secret votes. The legislation’s stated goal is to create a more efficient and effective government through greater transparency and accountability. The bill was prompted by a last minute amendment to SB 224 (sponsored by Sen. David Argall (R-Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill)), a bill that would amend the Election Code, last October 4 at 11:00 p.m. The resolution calls for House business to take place during “practical hours of the day” and would prohibit committee votes after 11:00 p.m., as is already prohibited for the full House.

May I quote you?

“The Sunshine Act is there because the law recognizes that government functions best when it functions in an open, transparent manner with the public involved.”

Melissa Melewsky, PNA Media Law Counsel, quoted in a TribLIVE article on the Pittsburgh City Council’s questionable Sunshine Act compliance. Read more from TribLIVE.

APRIL 18, 2024

The House and Senate were in session this week. Both chambers return to Harrisburg on April 29. Pennsylvania Primary elections are April 23.

US House subcommittee considers freedom of the press, federal shield law proposals

On Thursday, April 11, the federal House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, led by Reps. Chip Roy (R-TX-21) and Mary Scanlon (D-PA-5), held a hearing “Fighting for a Free Press: Protecting Journalists and their Sources” to examine the federal government’s infringement on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press, as well as federal shield law proposals. The members kept the focus on the need for a federal shield law and urged the Senate to take up the PRESS Act, which passed the House on a unanimous basis earlier this year. N/MA has let PNA know that they will continue to vigorously advocate for the passage of the PRESS Act in the US Senate.

House amends water/sewer project bill to include favorable newspaper notice language

HB 1903, introduced by Rep. Melissa Cerrato (D-Montgomery) and a bill which would amend Title 53 to add a chapter on water and sewer projects, was amended on second consideration on the House floor on Monday to require notice by newspaper publication. If a municipality determines that a particular supply utilized in the replacement or remediation of a water or sewer lateral is not American-made, or is not available in sufficient quantities, the municipality would be required to publish notice of that determination in at least two newspapers of general circulation within the municipality, as well as on their social media and publicly accessible internet website. This amended version passed the full House on Tuesday and now goes to the Senate.

House member wants cameras in the courtroom

Rep. Jamie Flick (R-Lycoming and Union) has filed a co-sponsor memorandum seeking legislation that would authorize video and audio recording of criminal and civil court proceedings in the Commonwealth. Recording child witnesses and alleged victims of sexual assault would be prohibited. Rep. Flick’s motivation is to promote transparency and accountability within Pennsylvania’s judicial system.

Lawmaker seeks transparency on all Commonwealth special funds

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) has filed a co-sponsor memorandum contemplating legislation that would require that 7-year financial statements from all Commonwealth special funds be represented in the annual Governor’s Executive Budget proposals and materials. Currently, the memorandum states, these financial statements are provided only for three special funds: the General Fund, the Motor License Fund, and the Lottery Fund.

May I quote you?

“Let me be clear, these are the public’s records. They are not state secrets. Transparency delayed is transparency denied.”

– Former Dauphin County Chief Solicitor Justin McShane, telling commissioners at their April 10 workshop meeting that Dauphin County intentionally delays providing public records and information under the state Right-to-Know Law. To learn more about the practice McShane said has gone on for years, read the coverage in PennLive.

Dan Gleiter |

APRIL 11, 2024

The House and Senate were in session this week. The House returns to Harrisburg on Monday, the Senate on April 29. The Pennsylvania Primary elections are April 23.

Cellphone bill provision restricts public access

A bill that would prohibit the use of handheld cellphones and similar devices while operating a motor vehicle passed the House on Tuesday. SB 37, which is designed to strengthen traffic laws with stronger deterrents, is sponsored by Sen. Rosemary Brown (R-Lackawanna/Monroe/Wayne). A House Transportation Committee amendment contains an added provision that would require data collection for self-initiated traffic stops and an annual publication of aggregated data from these collections. The requirements are positive except for the addition of language that makes the data collected nonpublic under the Right-to-Know Law. The provision is unnecessary and restricts access to information that is currently public. PNA is seeking a language change on the bill. The legislation now heads back to the Senate, and that chamber would have to concur in the House’s amendments in order for the bill to proceed to the governor.

Lawmaker wants reforms in automatic contract renewals

Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) has filed HB 2196, which would require consumers to be notified of the existence of an automatic renewal clause prior to executing a contract and prior to automatic renewal. Sellers would also be required to notify consumers if a contract is sold and allow consumers to opt out of the automatic renewal provision.

Bill focuses on township vacancies

Rep. Christina Sappey (D-Chester) has introduced HB 2160, a bill that would require a First Class Township vacancy board to meet to fill a vacancy within 15 days if township commissioners fail to do so after 30 days. The legislation would, among other provisions, call for a public meeting to explain why a vacancy is not filled by the appropriate deadlines.

May I quote you?

“An issue like what to name the football (field) is not an executive session subject matter and should not be discussed anywhere other than a public meeting. The Sunshine Act is a public access law, and the exceptions are narrowly written and should be narrowly applied.’’

– PNA Media Law Counsel Melissa Melewsky, commenting in Spotlight PA about what appears to be a “fundamental misunderstanding’’ of executive sessions by the Penn State Board of Trustees, this time over an initiative to name the university football field after Joe Paterno.

APRIL 4, 2024

The General Assembly was not in session this week. The House and Senate return to Harrisburg on Monday.

Lawmaker wants state symbol transparency

Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford/Erie) said in a co-sponsor memo he plans to file a bill requiring legislators to disclose whether they have stock in The Hershey Co. or any other company with ownership interest in state symbols similar to the way they must disclose financial interest in casino ownership. The memo follows the House passage last week of Rep. Thomas Mehaffie’s (R-Dauphin) HB 1030, which would make the Hershey Kiss the official state candy. Roae noted in the memo that Hershey stock jumped from $190.90 to $193.71 after the bill was approved by the lower chamber. HB 1030 moves the Senate for consideration.

Reps seek automatic contract renewal protection

Reps. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) and Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia) plan to file a bill that would require consumers to be notified by sellers of an automatic renewal clause before executing a contract and before an automatic renewal. Additionally, sellers would be required to alert consumers when contracts are sold and allow consumers to opt out of the automatic renewal provision. Read the co-sponsor memo.

Legislator: Transparency in PLAs

Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Butler/Lawrence) indicated in a co-sponsor memo his plans to refile legislation that would require a public body to post notice of a project labor agreement on its website at least 20 days before the solicitation of bids on a public project to which the PLA would apply. This legislation was HB 373 in the 2019-2020 legislative session.

May I quote you?

“You’re not going to drive the way I do business, sir. You’re not gonna do it.’’

– Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko, responding to resident Walter Woods’ ongoing questions about possible Sunshine Act violations by the board of county commissioners as reported by the Press Enterprise in Bloomsburg.