ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
HB 1780 (PN 2370) would exempt the records of a volunteer EMS company, volunteer fire company or a volunteer rescue company from access under the Right to Know Law.
The bill sponsor, in his co-sponsorship memo, argues: "Volunteer fire and EMS companies do not have the resources for this type of mandate, whether these resources are financial or human. Our volunteer emergency organizations should not be expending their resources on a governmental function, which does not and should not apply to a private emergency organization, especially when they are already struggling with recruitment and retention of first responders. Any funding or assistance that is provided to our emergency services organizations through local or state government entities is naturally an open record under other various state and municipal codes that currently require reporting and documentation."
The ACLU-PA understands that Right to Know (RTK) requests can be time consuming, especially for volunteer fire/EMS companies. But the purpose of the Right to Know Law is to provide public transparency for those entities that receive taxpayer dollars. And while that funding may be disclosed through another open records request through another agency, that agency is not in a position to disclose how the volunteer fire/EMS companies used those funds. The courts may resolve the question of whether volunteer companies should be considered "local agencies." In the meantime, wholly exempting volunteer fire/EMS companies from the responsibility of reporting on how they use taxpayer dollars takes a sledgehammer to public accountability and transparency.