A Column by State Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District
The state Senate has taken a number of steps over the past few years to make government more open to public scrutiny. I am encouraged by these reforms and am pleased to report that this effort continues during the current legislative session. The Senate recently approved two bills intended to make government operations at the state, county and local levels more transparent.
House Bill 15, which I had a companion bill Senate Bill 105, is also known as the Pennsylvania Web Accountability and Transparency or PennWatch Act and was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett on June 30, 2011 as Act 18 of 2011. It directs the Governor’s Office of Administration to create and maintain a searchable website to expand the public’s access to state spending records.
The database created by this legislation will provide transparency to state spending and is another important and essential move in our on-going efforts to increase accountability in state government.
The “PennWatch” website will provide annual appropriation and expenditure information for all Commonwealth agencies. The website will also identify vendors, the amount of funds they receive and the state agency initiating the funding action or expenditure.
The legislation also requires:
- PennWatch to show state revenue received and deposited in the General Fund and Motor License Fund.
- PennWatch to provide links to each Commonwealth agency’s Internet website where available.
- PennWatch to provide the total number of individuals employed by each Commonwealth agency on a monthly basis. Requires “PennWatch” show the name, position title and annualized salary of each individual employed by each Commonwealth agency.
The Senate also approved Senate Bill 101, a bill I co-sponsored, which would increase the penalties for intentional violations of the state Sunshine Law. SB 101 was also approved by the House of Representatives on June 28, 2011 and the Senate on June 30, 2011 and was signed into law by the Governor on July 7, 2011 as Act 56 of 2011.
The impetus for this measure came from a Lancaster County grand jury that reviewed wrongdoing arising from months of secret meetings involving the then county commissioners.
Currently, the maximum fine for a violation of the Sunshine Act is only $100. This legislation increases the fine to a maximum of $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses. In addition, the bill prohibits the use of tax dollars for paying these fines. That means offenders will have to pay the fines out of their own pockets.