HB 1307 allows the government to charge you to inspect the records you already own

David Saad of Rumney NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in opposition to HB 1307.

Our government belongs to us.  Enshrined in Part 1 Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution, we have the right to know what our government is doing on our behalf.

The records of our government belong to the people and a citizen should not be charged fees to look at any record.  Consider a citizen or news reporter who notices something odd like a decision of a board that came out of nowhere or an expenditure that does not seem to be in the public’s best interest. Through public records requested, they investigate to identify illegal decisions made by public officials or to root out public corruption. Why should the person requesting records pay fees when the records 1) already belong to the citizens, 2) they contribute to the public’s understanding of government’s activities, and 3) they inform voters of how elected officials and public employees are conducting business on our behalf?  Charging citizens a fee to access records gives public agencies the ability to construct toll booths along the information highway on route toward the truth.  Many citizens would run out of money long before they reached their destination.

Would you be willing to:

  • Pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for an unknown amount of records?
  • Pay the amount weeks or months in advance of receiving the records?
  • Have no way to dispute the amount you paid or request a refund if the wrong records were provided?
  • Pay to have someone search for records which don’t exist or end up not being provided because they are exempt from disclosure?

That’s what this bill will require you to do and it will have a chilling effect on the rights of citizens to know what their government is doing on their behalf.  It will also result in an increase in Right to Know requests as citizens will arbitrarily break one logical request into multiple smaller requests in order to avoid being charged fees.

A representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate.  Everyone is entitled to public information regarding the official acts and affairs of government.  Providing citizens with such information is an essential government function and should be an integral part of the routine duties of public officers and employees.  Please make it explicitly clear that nothing may be charged to inspect a governmental record.

Please contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to vote HB 1307 Inexpedient to Legislate.