HB 396 will require citing specific exemption when records are denied

RTKNH testified in support of HB 396  which will change the Right-to-Know Law and require citing the specific exemption when record requests are denied.

Below is the testimony by David Saad, President RTKNH provided to the House Judiciary Committee on January 23rd.

RTKNH receives citizen inquiries from across the state as we are a resource people turn to when they feel their public officials are not lawfully responding to their right to know requests.

In 2018, we received 68 inquiries.  This was a 15% increase over 2017.  An overwhelming majority of these inquiries are the result of record requests which are denied or delayed.  In many of these instances, the public officials do not provide an adequate explanation for the denial or delay.  Without an adequate explanation, citizens feel their record requests are being stonewalled, they are unable to exercise their right to know, and they lose trust in their government.

The existing law does state that when record requests are denied, the denial must be “in writing with reasons”, however, this language is too vague.  Often, public officials simply state that the records are exempt from disclosure and provide no further explanation.

Without a statement of the specific exemption relied upon for the denial, the citizen has little confidence that the public official has completed the necessary due diligence to identify the lawful exemption for each record withheld from disclosure.

Article 8, Part 1 of the NH Constitution states that our government is “at all times accountable to” the people.  Being accountable should include providing a sufficient and lawful explanation when information is being withheld from the people.