RTKNH receives First Amendment Award

We couldn’t be more proud.  On Thursday night, October 5, 2017, the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications awarded Right to Know NH its First Amendment Award. The award is given annually by the school to those who have “gone above and beyond to uphold” First Amendment Freedoms.

1sr amendment award group

RTKNH, including founding members and officers Harriet Cady, David Saad and David Taylor were honored at a gala at the Palace Theatre in Manchester for its work in advancing the public’s right to know in New Hampshire.

A 5 minute video about RTKNH was shown at the award ceremony followed by a speech by David Saad,  RTKNH president.

The keynote speaker was Garrison Keillor, creator and star of “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, who spoke of everyday threats to our First Amendment rights, not least of which is our own indifference and reluctance to act.

Since it began in 2013, Right to Know NH has been devoted to strengthening the Right to Know law in New Hampshire.  Through legislative action, education outreach and mentoring citizens in obtaining public information, the grass roots organization has grown to become a notable advocate for open government in the state.

We are honored to be recognized by the Nackey S. Loeb School and are delighted that attorney and First Amendment specialist, Greg Sullivan, was also recognized with the school’s Pen and Quill award.

The Nackey  S. Loeb School of Communications’ mission is to “promote understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and to foster interest, integrity and excellence in journalism and communication.”

Articles by the Union Leader and Concord Monitor provide more information.

 

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Training on RTK law now available

Right to Know New Hampshire (RTKNH) has put together a presentation on the Right-to-Know law.  This is a comprehensive review of the Right-to-Know law and covers governmental records, minutes, public and nonpublic meetings, and violations.

RTKNH is available to provide a right to know training class to your group.  The training class includes our presentation on the Right-to-Know Law.  To schedule our training class for your organization or citizen’s group, contact us.  To contact us, please click ‘Send us a message’ on the right side of this page.

Additional training materials can be found on our blog under the Training menu option.

RTKNH meeting Saturday 11/18 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 9:00 A.M. in Concord, NH at 8 North Main Street in the office of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers.  We will discuss the findings of the RTK Commission to study alternative processes for resolving RTK complaints and also review all Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A) bills submitted for the upcoming legislative session.  The public is welcome to join us.

N.H. Commission Recommends Ombudsman

2017-10-31-HB178-Commission-Photo

Above: N.H. RTK Study Commission members at final meeting.  Seated, left to right, Rep. Jordan Ulery, Sen. Bob Giuda, Harriet Cady.  Standing, Lisa English, Mark Derby, Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo, Rep. Gary Hopper, Mark Hounsell, David Saad, Christine Hilliard for Gilles Bissonnette.

A New Hampshire commission report recommends a new ombudsman to more easily and cheaply resolve complaints under the Right-to-Know Law, RSA 91-A. The Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right-to-Know Complaints was required to file its report by November 1, 2017. The Commission was formed under RSA 91-A:8-a by passage of HB 178.

The ombudsman will be a professional attorney. He or she will review and investigate complaints filed by citizens alleging violations of the Right-to-Know Law. The ombudsman will have the power to review confidential records in camera and issue an order detailing his or her results, including applying RSA 91-A remedies such as disclosing records or levying fines.

The ombudsman will be hired by a new Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission. This new Commission will oversee and supervise the ombudsman as well as report annually on Right-to-Know complaints and recommendations for changes to RSA 91-A.

The RTK Study Commission was lead by co-chairs Sen. Bob Giuda and Rep. Jordan Ulery.  Sen. Giuda presided over most meetings and drove the committee to complete its report by the deadline. Sen. Giuda also pledged to file a bill in the Senate to implement the recommendations in the report. The report also recommends improved training on the Right-to-Know Law and lower fees.

The complete report is available here.

RTKNH meeting Saturday 10/21 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at 9:00 A.M. in Concord, NH at 8 North Main Street in the office of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers.  We will discuss the status of Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A) bills drafted by RTKNH which have been submitted.  The public is welcome to join us.

Right to Know Articles of Interest

Bills 2018

The Right-to-Know Law changes as new bills pass into law. Almost every year there are proposed bills to amend the Right-to-Know Law. This year, Right to Know NH has proposed 7 bills to strengthen the ability of citizens of New Hampshire to access their government. There are 6 bills already submitted to Legislative Services and assigned numbers. We have a Senate sponsor for a seventh bill, not yet assigned an LSR number.

LSR 2018-2309: requiring records to be kept for certain exempt convenings under the right-to-know law
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Kurt Wuelper.

LSR 2018-2310: relative to collective bargaining under the right-to-know law
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Kurt Wuelper.

LSR 2018-2324: relative to information to be included in the minutes under the right-to-know law.
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Michael Sylvia.

LSR 2018-2339: relative to costs charged under the right-to-know law
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Michael Sylvia.

LSR 2018-2340: prohibiting costs for inspection of governmental records under the right-to-know law
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Michael Sylvia.

LSR 2018-2568: relative to employment of chief executive officers under the right-to-know law
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Michael Sylvia.

relative to access to electronic records under the right-to-know law
STATUS: Sponsored by Sen. Bob Giuda.

There are other bills that appear to affect the Right-to-Know Law besides those proposed by RTKNH.  Here are the other bills so far:

LSR 2018-2229: relative to public bodies under the right-to-know law.
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Michael Brewster.

LSR 2018-2671: relative to costs of requests which are in electronic format under the right-to-know law.
STATUS: Submitted to Legislative Services by Rep. Kevin Verville.

If you know the bill number, you can track its progress here or use the NH State Legislature Portal.

Tuftonboro’s Noxious Lawsuit, Part of National Trend

THIS BLOG POST IS A GUEST EDITORIAL.  

Author: Maxim Ledoux

“These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.” That’s how the Associated Press quotes University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, speaking about a troubling trend in recent years of government bodies suing citizens who seek disclosure of public documents through open-records laws. You can read the whole article at AP (“Governments turn tables by suing public records requesters”).

I know all about these types of absurd lawsuits. Last year the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (at the time: Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) sued me and another Tuftonboro New Hampshire resident, Bob McWhirter, when we requested to inspect government records. They spent around $20,000 (and counting) in a vain attempt to charge us $.25 per page to inspect the records, even though New Hampshire’s Right to Know law states that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.” The selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager of Ossipee, argued in court that the law doesn’t make sense because, if read literally, it meant that the selectmen couldn’t charge us a fee. And they wanted to charge us a fee.

They lost their lawsuit when Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius ruled that they couldn’t charge us a fee. But as the AP quotes Mike Deshotels in its article, “You can lose even when you win.” Deshotels was sued by the Louisiana Department of Education when he requested school enrollment data. The DOE lost in court, like the Tuftonboro selectmen, but Deshotels incurred legal costs, like Bob and me, defending himself from an attack on his right to know what his government was doing.

These types of abusive lawsuits are happening all over the country, according to the AP. But in Michigan, the state House of Representatives unanimously (108–0) passed a bill this spring that would prohibit government bodies from suing citizens who are requesting documents. The bill needs to be passed by the Michigan Senate before becoming law.

Tuftonboro selectmen spent $20,000 of taxpayers’ money in an effort to make it more difficult to get access to public records. Would they have done that if it was their own $20,000? It’s easy to spend other people’s money. Even after the court’s ruling on August 8, the selectmen have yet to turn over a single email to me or Bob.

New Hampshire should make it illegal for government bodies to sue citizens who are requesting documents.