HB 1170 definition of ‘reasonably described’ is unreasonable

David Saad of Rumney NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in opposition to HB 1170.

While the term “reasonably described” is not defined in the current law, there is plenty of federal and state case law which provides a good foundation for how citizens and public bodies must interpret the term.

This bill is not needed and if passed it would significantly limit a citizen’s ability to discover the truth about the functioning of its government.  Often when a citizen or reporter is investigating how officials performed their duties or spent taxpayers money they need to review documents which span many months or years.  For example, let’s say you want to look at the expenditures for a specific budgeted line item and compare the budget against actual.  Since a year is 365 days, you would be required to submit 13 separate Right to Know requests to get that information since a single request cannot span more than 30 days.  Thus, an unintended consequence of this bill will be a significant increase in the number of Right to Know requests.

To take the above example further, in order to investigate the specifics of how that money was appropriated, authorized for payment, and then to track the actual payments you have to review the minutes from several meetings, invoices from the vendor, and approvals for payments.  At a minimum these are 3 different document types.  Does this bill now require 3 separate Right to Know requests, one for each document type?  This bill is trying to force a very narrow degree of specificity in Right to Know requests which is unrealistic given the investigative nature of many records requests.

Also, this bill introduces significant ambiguity by introducing the new term “extensive research” without a definition.  The dictionary defines “extensive” as “very large in amount or degree”.  Any public body will now be able to refuse to fulfill many requests for records by claiming that in order to fulfill the request it would require “extensive research”.  There is no process established to explain what is and what is not “extensive research”.  Thus, all the current federal and state case law which provides guidance for “reasonably described” will have to be replaced by new, yet to be filed, state supreme court opinions.  Another unintended consequence of this bill will be a wave of new Right to Know lawsuits over what is and is not “extensive research”.

Please contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to vote HB 1170 Inexpedient to Legislate.