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March 11, 2013 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

WATCHBLOG: PA transparency earns temperate grade in Sunshine Week report

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HERE COMES THE SUN: A new report gives Pennsylvania a 'C' for legislative data transparency. Over the last few months, the state has added new features to the General Assembly site to make it more user-friendly.

HERE COMES THE SUN: A new report gives Pennsylvania a ‘C’ for legislative data transparency. Over the last few months, the state has added new features to the General Assembly site to make it more user-friendly.

HARRISBURG – If the commonwealth were an elementary school student, we’re not sure if its mother would put this grade on the refrigerator. But in national context, Pennsylvania’s legislative transparency is pretty much on the curve.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Open States project gave Pennsylvania a “C” for state legislative transparency in a recent report card. The project ranked all 50 states to grade how “open” state’s legislative data was.

Pennsylvania is among 20 states to receive a C, while eight states scored a grade “A,” and six scored an “F.”

Pennsylvania neither lost nor earned points in five categories, including areas like completeness and timeliness. So overall, the state was fairly average for making legislative data like bills, amendments and lawmaker contact information accessible.

But, boosting its grade, Pennsylvania earned an extra two points for permanence. That’s for making “all information is available in a permanent location and data goes back a reasonable amount of time,” according to the project’s scoring page.

Though the Open State ranking puts Pennsylvania in the middle of the pack, the currentl egislative session might be prove to be the most transparentPennsylvania’s ever seen.

Over the last several months, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly website has undergone some user-friendly makeovers. That includes co-sponsorship memo postings, and easy-to-access committee agendas.

And, in December, the state launched PennWATCH, a web database of department-by-department spending, including staff salaries. Previously, Pennsylvania benefited its reputation with open government advocates with an overhaul of its Right-to-Know law in 2008 which created the Office of Open Records. But the law is still subject to controversy as the commonwealth gets legally tested on what it considered public information, like the governor’s calendar.

The Open States transparency report card was release Monday during Sunshine Week. The nationwide annual promotion of open government and public information access is meant to promote discussion and review of transparency at every level.

Journalists and watchdogs of all leanings, flavors and backgrounds celebrate with in-depth studies on government access, and ratings and reviews such as those conducted by the Sunlight Foundation.

Learn more about Sunshine Week here.

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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