HB 286 insures there will be no charges to inspect records

RTKNH testified in support of HB 286  which will change the Right-to-Know Law to insure records can be inspected at no cost.

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

In 2015, 3 bills (HB 138, HB 656, and HB 606) were introduced.  HB 138 stated “No fee shall be charged to make a governmental record available for inspection.”  HB 656 stated “No fee shall be charged to view public records either in-house or online.”

As stated in the House Record (HC19):

Rep. Michael J. Sylvia for the Majority of Judiciary. The people’s right to access governmental records is an important function of RSA 91-A. Maintaining transparency of government is one of our constitutional duties. HB 606 incorporates similar concepts which were presented in three bills all addressing access to governmental records under RSA 91-A:4 IV; HB 606, HB 138 and HB 656. All three sought to make clear that there should be no fee charged for the inspection of records made available under 91-A. HB 606 as amended, also includes access to online records without a charge.

The final result was HB 606 which stated “No fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form”.

The goal of this bill was to “prohibit a public body or agency from charging a fee for making a governmental record available for inspection or from charging a fee for inspection of such record.”

After several lawsuits which tested this new language, the courts have ruled that costs can be charged even when someone only wants to inspect a record.  In Taylor v. SAU 55 and Salcetti v. Keene, if an electronic record is transferred internally within an agency to make the record available for inspection, a charge is allowed because that scenario falls outside the definition of “delivery without copying”.

Also, when a paper or electronic record requires redaction, often public bodies will redact a paper copy of the record and charge copy costs to make the redacted version available for inspection.

This bill adds language to achieve the original goal of HB 606 which is that when a person only wishes to inspect a record, that record, in whatever format it may exist, after any lawful redactions have taken place, will be made available for inspection at no cost or fee.

Please make it perfectly clear that citizens shall not have to pay to inspection a governmental record.