May. 21, 2021
– The Office of Open Records today partially ruled in favor of Rep. Jason Ortitay’s (R-Washington/Allegheny) appeal of records withheld by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration about its failure to advertise a constitutional amendment that would have given victims of childhood sexual abuse recourse in civil court.
On Feb. 24, Ortitay requested from the governor’s office and the Pennsylvania Department of State copies of all communications regarding House Bill 963 of 2019
, Joint Resolution 2 of 2019 and publication of the constitutional language surrounding these two pieces of legislation. On April 5, the Wolf administration turned over some of the records but refused to turn over all of them, citing attorney-client privilege and attorney-work product doctrine. On April 23, Ortitay appealed the administration’s actions.
Today, the Office of Open Records said the Wolf administration withheld 56 records in error, and it must provide them to Ortitay within 30 days or appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Court.
“It has been almost four months since it was discovered that the Department of State failed to properly advertise the constitutional amendment, and we still have no answers,” Ortitay said. “While the governor makes claims of wanting to be open and transparent, it is obvious these are just buzzwords to him and his administration. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, ‘If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.’ The people of Pennsylvania have waited too long for answers. What are they hiding? I had hoped to find out through this Right-to-Know request. Instead, all they have done is delay and withhold information. They have used the maximum time allowed by law on every request to delay and prevent the truth from coming out. Stop wasting time and tax dollars. Come clean and tell the victims what really happened instead of hiding the truth.”
Because the department failed to properly advertise, any vote on this amendment is delayed for at least two years. Amending the Constitution is a lengthy process by design. To do so, the proposed amendment must be passed in identical form in both the House and Senate for two consecutive legislative sessions. The General Assembly approved this proposal last session and was on track to get it on the ballot in May 18 primary election.
Earlier this month, the House approved an Ortitay resolution that creates a Select Committee on the Publication of Constitutional Amendments to study how constitutional amendments in the Commonwealth are advertised due to Department of State’s failure. The committee members are expected to be appointed next week and begin work.
“None of this would necessary if the Wolf Administration lived up to its promise of transparency,” Ortitay added.
Ortitay has a second case on appeal to the Office of Open Records with the governor’s office, which is still pending.
The 46th Legislative District includes Collier and South Fayette townships and Bridgeville, Heidelberg, McDonald and Oakdale boroughs in Allegheny County. It also encompasses Canton, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and Smith townships, and Burgettstown, McDonald and Midway boroughs in Washington County.