NHMA Supports HB108

In their Legislative Bulletin #2 for January 9, 2015, the New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA) argues in favor of HB108 on non-public session minutes.  As they explain, this bill has 2 parts: 1) clarify that non-public session minutes must satisfy the same requirements as public session minutes, and 2) votes to seal non-public session minutes must be taken in public.

For the first part on the requirements for non-public session minutes, the NHMA supports this provision, saying:

We believe that is already the law, and if the legislature wants to emphasize the point, that’s fine.

For the second part on voting to seal minutes in public, the NHMA recognizes this as a new requirement because the current law is silent on this issue, but it is a new requirement that is helpful.  First, they note that this silence causes confusion and lots of wasteful questions from public officials:

We receive questions about this all the time; we advise officials that the law does not specify, so it is permissible to do it in either public or non-public session, but we believe the better practice, in the spirit of openness, is to do it in public session.

They go on to argue that “we don’t see any real harm” from this new requirement, and “if it makes the law clearer, that is a good thing.”

The NHMA ends with an important note that this bill is strictly limited to the vote to seal the minutes, and not any deliberations or discussions.  If needed, deliberations and discussions could still occur in the non-public session:

There may be times when the discussion about sealing the minutes would itself reveal information that should remain private; but if that is the case, the discussion about sealing the minutes can be held in non- public session and the vote to seal can still be taken in public.