Pe­nal­ize info concealment

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -

By de­fy­ing the state’s Open Records Law and not suf­fer­ing any con­se­quences, the Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of Health has demon­strated why the state Leg­is­la­ture should make the law tougher.

Like many other gov­ern­ment agen­cies, the De­part­ment of Health seems to view pub­lic dis­clo­sure as an un­nec­es­sary bur­den rather than a core func­tion of gov­ern­ment.

Its han­dling of per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions for the state’s new med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try is in­ex­cus­able.

The de­part­ment re­fused to iden­tify the in­di­vid­u­als it named to a panel to re­view per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions. Then, it al­lowed nearly 150 ap­pli­cants for pot-grow­ing li­censes to redact al­most ev­ery­thing — in­clud­ing the names of some prin­ci­pals and the ad­dressees of the busi­nesses — from the ap­pli­ca­tions for a pub­licly reg­u­lated en­ter­prise.

Ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment, it didn’t iden­tify the ap­pli­ca­tions panel mem­bers to pre­vent at­tempts at in­flu­enc­ing them, thus con­clud­ing that se­crecy is su­pe­rior to full dis­clo­sure in pre­vent­ing con­flicts of in­ter­est. It’s im­pos­si­ble to as­sess whether an anony­mous board mem­ber has a con­flict.

The Of­fice of Open Records or­dered the de­part­ment to iden­tify the panelists nearly a month ago, but it has not yet done so as it pon­ders whether to ap­peal.

Mon­day, the O OR ruled that the de­part­ment had failed to act “in good faith” in de­ter­min­ing whether in­for­ma­tionon the blacked-out a ppli cations for grow­ing, pro­cess­ing and dis­pen­sary per­mits was im­proper ly red acted by the ap­pli­cants them­selves.

The rem­edy? Just six months from the sched­uled be­gin­ning of med­i­cal mar­i­juana ac­cess, the OOR gave the de­part­ment seven days to merely come up with a timetable to com­plete its re­view of the ap­pli­ca­tions.

That speaks to the in­ad­e­quacy of the law. The de­part­ment it­self re­peat­edly had vowed specif­i­cally to be trans­par­ent re­gard­ing the med­i­cal mar­i­juana is­sue, pre­cisely be­cause it is con­tro­ver­sial and de­mands open­ness. And the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Gov. Tom Wolf gen­er­ally has vowed open­ness.

Wolf should de­mand ac­count­abil­ity from his health de­part­ment. And the Leg­is­la­ture should take this episode as proof pos­i­tive that “good faith” is in­ad­e­quate mo­ti­va­tion for too many state of­fi­cials to com­ply with the law.

Law­mak­ers should add penal­ties to the law against state and lo­cal pub­lic of­fi­cials who fail to act in “good faith” in in­form­ing the pub­lic.

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