|By Rep. Kate Klunk (R-Hanover)
Recently, the House Health Committee advanced legislation I was privileged to author with Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Abbottstown) that would prevent departments within state government from denying state agencies access to vital records needed to complete research. This move will protect the agencies’, and, by extension, all Pennsylvanians’, access to the facts, and hold government accountable.
The issue stems from last year when the Wolf administration’s Department of Health denied a request by the Legislative Budget and Finance Commission (LBFC) for data on COVID-19 deaths to complete a report. The Department of Health erroneously claimed the commission wasn’t privy to the information because it is not an agency of government.
House Bill 2441
makes it perfectly clear that the LBFC is entitled to information it needs to complete reports. The legislation specifically spells out that the LBFC is an agency of government. It is my hope that these changes will protect the LBFC’s right to information going forward and prevent such stunts the administration tried to pull from happening again.
The issue stems to 2020 when the House approved my House Resolution 1087 and instructed the LBFC to collect data and complete a report on COVID-19 deaths. The root cause for the report were Pennsylvanians who were counted as “COVID-19 deaths,” but COVID-19 was not listed as an underlying cause of death. You may recall there were serval instances of the Department of Health’s reported COVID-19 deaths decreasing, causing concern over the accuracy of the department’s information.
To get to the bottom of the issue, the LBFC requested redacted death certificates of nearly 1,600 people whose cause of death were questioned. The LBFC could have fully completed its report by reviewing the redacted death certificates to see if COVID-19 was listed as being the cause of death or the health condition that contributed to death.
But the Department of Health dug in its heals and denied the request under the false pretense that the LBFC wasn’t a government agency.
The report was delayed by almost a year because of the roadblocks put in place by the Wolf administration and wasn’t a complete report, leaving questions unanswered.
It was mind boggling to me that a branch of government would actively deny a government entity that routinely examines data and performs research information it needs to complete its task.
In its report, the LBFC recommended that the General Assembly move to update the law to specifically state that it is entitled to vital records to complete research. That is why we introduced House Bill 2441, which would also spell out that the Joint State Government Commission is permitted to review and receive vital records.
We, as policymakers, need vital information to make informed decisions. This bill protects that quest and moves to hold government in the spotlight of transparency.
Representative Kate A. Klunk
169th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross