Brennan returns to Harrisburg to introduce variety of new legislation; join Labor & Industry Committee

DOYLESTOWN, Oct. 6 – With the legislature’s return to the Capitol after the summer recess, state Rep. Tim Brennan, D-Bucks, has filed or will soon propose several new pieces of legislation.

Brennan will also now also serve on the Labor & Industry Committee after being appointed this past week by Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia. This is in addition to his existing committee appointments: Appropriations, Ethics (where he serves as Secretary), Insurance, State Government, and Tourism & Economic and Recreational Development.

Brennan’s new proposals include:

  • House Bill 1466, passed unanimously by the House, would help protect people from meritless Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Brennan is a prime cosponsor of this proposal to address costly SLAPP lawsuits filed against a person or organization for criticizing, via public statement or sentiment, a matter of interest to the filer. While SLAPPs will often cite legal theories such as defamation or invasion of privacy, the true purpose is to deter or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of litigating a defense, according to Brennan.

The legislation would create a process, based on protected speech, to quickly dismiss SLAPP lawsuits through a motion to dismiss. If the motion is successful, defendants may recover attorney’s fees, costs, and damages related to the action. The bill includes a SLAPP back provision, so if a party invokes a SLAPP motion frivolously or solely to cause unnecessary delay, the court will award attorney’s fees and costs to the non-moving party.

  • Proposed legislation for agricultural preservation funds: Brennan and Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Lancaster, will soon introduce bipartisan legislation to protect our agricultural lands and ensure they will continue to produce food for generations to come. It would accomplish this by adding more revenue streams to increase funding for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program (ACEP), and by helping eligible nonprofits invest in preservation efforts.    

ACEP has preserved 6,180 farms consisting of 622,238 acres since its inception in 1988. However, Pennsylvania is still losing farms and farmland, a trend that could result in decreased food production and increased food prices, according to experts. Saving farmlands retains Pennsylvania’s ability to provide healthy, nutritious food to residents without relying on imports.

“Pennsylvania is a world leader in agricultural production, which is good for Bucks County and the commonwealth. The pressures of overdevelopment are a threat to agriculture land use and open space preservation, and this is yet another tool to combat that threat and preserve our food supply independence,” Brennan said. “Rep. Greiner and I hail from two of the top counties for agricultural land preservation and exports, so it made sense to advocate for this measure together.”

“Agriculture continues to be the No. 1 industry in the commonwealth, and Lancaster County is key to its agricultural success,” Greiner said. “As a resident of farm-rich eastern Lancaster County, I have been a strong supporter of farmland preservation for many years and am glad to be a prime cosponsor of this legislation.”

  • Proposed legislation to establish clear standards for school board reapportionment: Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts are redrawn every ten years, following the Federal Census, to ensure constitutional standards of population equality and the process is based on several non-partisan, neutral criteria. Unfortunately, research shows that many school boards do not take the same proactive steps and are not given clear standards for when and how their districts need to be redrawn.

This bill is meant to ensure that school district boundaries keep up with changing populations, are drafted with nonpartisan criteria, meet constitutional standards, and represent voters fairly. Brennan’s proposed measure would provide clear, consistent, and fair guidelines for when and how to redraw school districts.

“In law school, I was certified in law and government, and I have since worked extensively on redistricting reform. Our founders expected citizens to have a real opportunity to influence our elections. I have spent a lifetime trying to improve the flaws in our democratic processes, including the harm from gerrymandering,” Brennan said. “Providing nonpartisan standards and clear timelines for school board reapportionment will increase accountability for elected officials and trust in our democratic process – both are absolutely essential in governance of our public education system.”

  • Proposed legislation to protect private parties and public safety in Right-to-Know requests: Under the current Right-to-Know (RTK) Law, all records in government possession are presumed public. However, documents that are technically in public possession may still contain the protected information of private individuals – guarded by laws such as HIPAA or CHRIA – and/or information that could harm public safety if released.

The bill aims to protect records that disclose private information of nongovernmental parties in the hands of the government, such as personal health information, personal bank account numbers, or records showing the sexual orientation of a child – the list goes on at length, according to Brennan. It would also protect records that ought to remain private due to public safety concerns – for example, documents that expose security weaknesses of a public building (such as floor plans of an elementary school) or a private company’s computer network security system. 

Vague RTK requests also present an issue, as they may create a cascade of problems for an agency asked to supply tens of millions of records in the five-day turnaround period with only a single 30-days extension allowed. Unfortunately, vexatious requestors can file massive RTK request to purposely grind an agency’s operations to a halt as it rushes to fulfill the request, Brennan said. Further, insincere requests delay responses for all other requestors. This legislation would allow agencies to consider such risks and burdens in determining the specificity of a request. 

“As a firm supporter of Open Records and an open government, and a Right-to-Know officer under both modern statutes for nearly two decades, I’ve seen the current RTK law provide unprecedented and much needed transparency and oversight. Still, it has room to better protect private citizens and public safety,” Brennan said. “This measure would allow a full good faith review, remedy these problematic requests, and create a more timely and efficient process for most requestors.”