Editorial Board, Philadelphia Inquirer
The child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State has revealed a serious flaw in Pennsylvania's open-records law that should be corrected immediately.
The law mandating public access to records should apply to any institution that gets taxpayer money, but it doesn't. Penn State and three other universities - Lincoln, Temple, and Pittsburgh - are exempt because they are only partially funded by the state.
The exemption has allowed Penn State to block access to information about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually abusing young boys on campus. Documents that could reveal what university officials knew and what steps they took to protect innocent children remain hidden.
Given the need for openness in this case, it is also important for Gov. Corbett to provide a more thorough explanation of his actions as attorney general in investigating sexual-abuse allegations against Sandusky.
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that local prosecutors referred Sandusky's case to Corbett's office in March 2009, but it didn't begin directly investigating until fall 2010. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said Tuesday that the delay was due to the time it took to identify victims and make a case. He said protecting children was a priority for Corbett.
Were it not for loopholes in the Sunshine Law, there would be no grounds for Penn State to withhold campus police reports, e-mails, and other records concerning Sandusky. Penn State received $272 million in state funds this year. That kind of cash from taxpayers should give them the right to see Penn State's paperwork.
There's still a chance that the state Office of Public Records could rule that the Sandusky records aren't subject to the exemption, but a ruling isn't expected until next week. "It is my belief that any time taxpayers put in a dime, there should be transparency," said Terry Mutchler, the office's executive director.
Some state lawmakers, stunned to learn about the law's exemptions, are talking about eliminating them. That makes sense. The four schools can't really claim to be independent with so much of their budget coming from taxpayers. But the law currently requires only that they issue an annual report and disclose the salaries of their officers, directors, and 25 highest-paid employees.
For years, Pennsylvania had one of the worst public-records laws in the country. The current law, passed in 2008, was an improvement, but it hasn't been the sea change that had been hoped for.
The Penn State scandal shines a light on the law's flaws. It is not that the public has a prurient desire to know the scandal's details. The truth must be revealed to keep it from happening again.
Donate to Help Stop Child Sex Abuse
Your donations will enable us to make justice, truth and accountabilty a reality for victims of child sex abuse by helping to change current state laws that protect perps and their supervisors and fail to protect children.