THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 14 – 20), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
By David Saad
The following testimony was provided to the House Judiciary Committee on House Bill 108 which, if passed, would require a list of sealed minutes be maintained and available to the public:
In the existing law regarding the sealing of minutes, RSA 91-A:3 III states
“…Information may be withheld until, in the opinion of a majority of members, the aforesaid circumstances no longer apply”.
Thus, to follow the letter and spirit of the current law, current members of each public body should be periodically reviewing all previously sealed minutes, to determine if the original circumstances for sealing the minutes still apply. In practice, this periodic review is never done. Thus, most public bodies are in violation of the law. Since no list of previously sealed minutes exist, if a member of the public or a member of a public body made a right to know request for sealed minutes on a particular subject, the public body would be obligated to make a reasonable search to comply with the request. This would require a detailed review of all minutes for an extended period of time to identify which minutes were sealed.
The benefits of having a list of sealed minutes are:
- Reduces the administrative burden on public bodies to follow the existing law, which is to periodically review all previously sealed minutes to determine if the original circumstances for sealing the minutes still apply. It is much easier to maintain a list on an ongoing basis than to go back and compile the list at a later date in order to comply with the law.
- Reduces the administrative burden on public bodies to respond to Right to Requests made for minutes related to topics which were discussed during nonpublic sessions and previously sealed.
- Ensures a more open government by having a list which tracks, for everyone to see, when discussions took place in which the minutes of those discussions remain hidden from public disclosure.
This bill, which was drafted by Right to Know NH, was passed by the Judiciary Committee with the vote 21-0.
David Saad is President of Right to Know NH (RTKNH) and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org