ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
SB 355 would create a new, duplicative offense to punish the destruction of requested public records as a third-degree felony.
In the bill sponsor’s memo describing the bill, the senator states that “Currently, the RTK law mentions no criminal offense for destroying or altering records subject to a request.” This is true. Properly speaking, all criminal offenses should be codified under Title 18 (obviously not the case in PA). But the fact that there is no offense under the RTKL does not mean that PA fails to punish the destruction of public documents.
Tampering with public records or information (18 Pa.C.S. § 4911) already covers the behavior described in SB 355. It punishes someone who "intentionally and unlawfully destroys, conceals, removes or otherwise impairs the verity or availability of any such record, document or thing" and grades the offense as a second-degree misdemeanor unless the intent is to defraud or injure anyone, in which case it's a felony of the third degree.
SB 355 is unnecessary and clearly duplicative. In addition, the third-degree felony grading, even for a first offense, is excessively punitive. An F3 grading puts this offense on par with possession of child pornography or institutional sexual assault under current PA law.
Check the bill's status here.