The Full House will be voting on SB 555 this thursday (4/26).
Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to support SB 555. For details on why you should support SB 555 click here.
SB 555 will establish an Ombudsman to resolve Right to Know grievances and reduce the burden and costs for:
- Public agencies & bodies
The 13 member study commission unanimously agreed that Citizens needs an Ombudsman.
The Senate agreed that Citizens needs an Ombudsman and voted to pass SB 555.
The House Judiciary Committee also agreed that citizens need an Ombudsman.
Since there was a Fiscal Note on the Bill requiring an appropriation of $48,000 for the Ombudsman, the House Finance Committee recently voted the Bill Inexpedient to Legislate.
The House Finance Committee did not consider all of the savings which would more than offset the cost for an Ombudsman.
While hiring an ombudsman is an added expense, there will be considerable savings to offset the costs to the taxpayers. By avoiding litigation, municipalities and state agencies will often be spared significant legal fees. For example, in the Superior Court case of Porter v. Town of Sandwich, Porter was awarded over $200,000 in attorney fees and the town had to pay their own legal fees too. Recently, the town of Tuftonboro paid over $20,000 in legal fees and lost their Right-to-Know lawsuit. Regardless of who wins the lawsuit, there are always significant legal fees which are passed on to the taxpayers.
Either way, taxpayers are going to pay for resolving Right to Know grievances. $48,000 for an Ombudsman now will yield more than $48,000 in avoided litigation costs later.
In New Hampshire, the deck is stacked against the citizen. While on paper it appears that the Right to Law provides for open and transparent government. Enforcement of this law falls squarely on the back of the individual citizen who is engaged, cares, and has the financial and emotional capital to take their government to court to enforce their right to know. Most citizens simply do not have the time or money to fight for themselves and their fellow citizens. Public officials know this and use this barrier to their advantage as they violate the rights of all citizens. For each Right to Know petition filed in court there are many more violations which are not pursued by citizens because they cannot afford to do so. And when a citizen does go to court, public officials use the deep pockets of taxpayer funding to fight against the very taxpayers who are paying the legal fees.
SB 555 creates a level playing field when an alleged right to know violation has occurred. With the ombudman, citizen complaints will be resolved out of court by an independent arbiter. This alternate resolution process will allow for ALL citizens, regardless of their financial means, to enforce their right to know.
Please contact your Legislator NOW and ask them to pass SB 555.