Right-to-Know Law Stronger for Citizens

Chalk one up for the citizens of New Hampshire. The right of citizens of our state to know what their government is doing got one step stronger this year thanks to the efforts of Right to Know NH. Governor Hassan signed HB108 into law. This bill moves a key vote from private to public meetings, holding public officials more accountable. This is the first bill initiated by RTKNH that has been signed into law.

Prior to HB108, the Right-to-Know law was silent about where a public board could vote to seal minutes of a non-public meeting. Sealing the minutes keeps them private, locking up what happened at the private meeting. If the vote to seal is recorded in the sealed minutes, then how public officials voted is also hidden so there is no accountability. Some boards routinely take this vote in secret while others routinely do it in public. HB108 requires all public bodies to take this vote in public. Public bodies may still deliberate about whether to seal minutes in nonpublic sessions in case the details of the deliberation may improperly disclose confidential information. HB108 takes effect January 1, 2016.

HB108 was initiated by RTKNH and found bipartisan support from both Representatives and Senators. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Horrigan (D) of Strafford 6 and co-sponsored by Rep. Wall (D/R) and Rep. M. Smith (D), both of Strafford 6 as well as Sen. Boutin (R) of District 16. RTKNH greatly appreciates the work of these Representatives and Senators in support of the rights of citizens on this bill. RTKNH also appreciates the work of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees chaired by Rep. Rowe (R) of Hillsborough 22 and Sen. Carson (R) of District 14. Both the NHMA and the NHSBA supported HB108 as well saying it would answer a question many towns and school districts ask them about.

While HB108 is the first bill initiated by RTKNH to become law, it is not the first fight taken on by this group. HB108 originally also included language to enhance the contents of non-public meetings, but that was stricken by the House. This year we also initiated HB138 that would have ensured free access to inspect public records, but that was killed by the House as it was subsumed by HB606 and eventually re-referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It may come back up next year. In 2014, RTKNH sponsored 2 bills, HB1156 and HB1591. HB1156 included many changes to strengthen the law, but it was amended substantially by the House and killed by the Senate as we supported. HB1591 proposed a new commission to make it easier and cheaper to enforce the Right-to-Know law, but that was killed by the House. Especially buoyed by our first success, RTKNH will continue to work to strengthen the rights of New Hampshire citizens through more open government.

Founded in early 2013, Right to Know NH is a non-partisan citizens group promoting open government in New Hampshire. We advocate to strengthen NH state laws, particularly the Right-to-Know law known as RSA 91-A, as well as Right-to-Know policies at the local level. We educate citizens on their Right to Know and public officials on how they can provide greater access to their constituents. We serve as a resource on Right to Know in our state with the goal of making government better. RTKNH maintains a blog at righttoknownh.wordpress.com with practical information about the Right to Know in our state and can be contacted directly through our blog or at righttoknownh@gmail.com. As a citizen group, we invite new members interested in protecting and enhancing open government.

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