Types of Agencies
The Right to Know Law defines four types of agencies:
- Commonwealth Agencies
- Local Agencies
- Legislative Agencies
- Judicial Agencies
All records of Commonwealth and Local Agencies are presumed to be public under the Right to Know Law. Only certain records of Legislative and Judicial Agencies are presumed to be public under the Law.
Some records of private companies under contract with an agency to perform a governmental function also may fall under the Right to Know Law.
Commonwealth Agencies are all state agencies, including:
- The Governor’s Office, Office of Attorney General, Department of Auditor General, Treasury Department, Department of Education, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (and entities created by PHEAA), Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement Board, State System of Higher Education (the 14 state-owned universities), Community Colleges, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, State Public School Building Authority, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, and the Pennsylvania Educational Facilities Authority.
- Any other state organization established by law that performs or is intended to perform an essential governmental function.
All records of Commonwealth Agencies are presumed to be public records under the Law.
The Law provides that Pennsylvania’s four “state-related institutions” – Temple University, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and Lincoln University – are generally exempt from the Law’s requirements. These “state-related institutions” are not considered Commonwealth agencies, and their records are not made public under the open records law.
However, the law does require these four universities to issue annual public reports that include IRS Form 990 information, plus the salaries of all officers and directors and the highest 25 salaries of other employees. The reports must be filed with the state by May 30 of each year, and the law requires the reports to be made public for seven years on the university’s website, as well as at the university’s library.
Local Agencies include:
- Political subdivisions (such as public school districts), charter schools, cyber charter schools, public trade schools, and vocational schools
- Local, intergovernmental, regional, and municipal governments (such as counties, boroughs, and townships)
- Any similar governmental entity
All records of Local Agencies are presumed to be public records under the Law.
Legislative Agencies include the state House of Representatives and Senate, the political party caucuses of the state House and Senate, and a number of specifically-listed commissions and entities under the General Assembly’s jurisdiction:
- Capitol Preservation Committee, Center for Rural Pennsylvania, Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee, Joint State Government Commission, Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, Legislative Data Processing Committee, Independent Regulatory Review Commission, Legislative Reference Bureau, Local Government Commission, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, Legislative Reapportionment Commission, Legislative Office of Research Liaison, and Legislative Audit Advisory Commission.
Unlike the records of Commonwealth and Local Agencies, the records of Legislative Agencies are not presumed to be public. The RTKL only provides access to “legislative records.” Legislative records include:
- Financial records,
- Bills or resolutions that have been introduced,
- Fiscal notes,
- Co-sponsorship memoranda,
- Minutes of public hearings and public committee meetings,
- Transcripts of public hearings when available,
- Executive nomination calendars,
- Rules of a chamber,
- Records of all recorded votes,
- Administrative staff manuals and written policies,
- Audit reports,
- Final and annual reports required to be submitted to the General Assembly,
- Legislative Budget and Finance Committee reports,
- Daily Legislative Session Calendars and marked calendars,
- Records reflecting an appointment of a legislative appointee,
- Proposed regulations,
- Final-form regulations and final-omitted regulations, and
- Results of public opinion surveys and polls.
Judicial agencies include any court, entity, or office within Pennsylvania’s unified judicial system, including the offices of magisterial district judges.
The RTKL only requires Judicial Agencies to provide access to their financial records, which include:
- Accounts, vouchers and contracts dealing with receiving or spending money or acquiring, using or disposing of services, supplies, materials, equipment or property,
- Salaries and other payments or expenses paid to public officials or employees, including their name and title, and
- Financial audit reports
The United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, court common-law, and court regulations set out the rules for public access to court records and proceedings. In general, the public has a right to access judicial records and proceedings. Records are available from courts online or upon request. If you have questions about gaining access to specific records or proceedings, please contact the PAFOIC.
In some instances, an agency may enter into a contract with a private company to help perform a governmental function. The records of these private companies relating to the government function may be presumed to be public records under the RTKL. The law provides that any records created or possessed by a private company that directly relate to that governmental function are subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law, regardless of whether the agency has physical possession of the records.
For instance, in SWB Yankees v. Wintermantel, a reporter submitted a RTKL request to SWB Yankees LLC, a private company that operated a minor league baseball stadium in Scranton pursuant to a contract with the Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority of Lackawanna County, a local agency. SWB Yankees LLC denied the request, claiming that as a private company, it was not under the jurisdiction of the RTKL. However, the Supreme Court concluded that SWB Yankees LLC was performing a government function – operating the county-owned stadium – pursuant to a contract with a local agency. As such, the Court ruled that records related to operating the stadium must be disclosed under the law even though they were in the possession of a private company.