HB 1325 will require a list of sealed minutes

David Taylor of Durham NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1325.

I am David K. Taylor of Durham, NH.  I served 12 years on the Oyster River School Board and have been a member of Right to Know NH for 5 years.

This bill would require a public body to maintain a list of all sealed non-public minutes and make that list available to the public.

Once non-public minutes are sealed they a filed away where there is almost no accountability.

This bill addresses a Catch-22 with sealed non-public minutes.  Consider a citizen who wants to review how a public body is sealing minutes.  Since those minutes are sealed, they are not available to the public.  But, the public body is not required to compile a list of sealed minutes under RSA 91-A:4, VII.  So, it is very hard for a citizen to know which minutes are sealed and why.  It would be a waste of everyone’s time to ask for fully redacted copies of the sealed minutes. It would also be very time consuming to get copies of regular minutes searching for those that mention sealed minutes.

Since sealed minutes deprive the public of access to meetings of public bodies, and thus should be used sparingly, a list of sealed minutes will make it easier to hold public bodies accountable.

This list will not only be available to the public, but it will also help facilitate regular review leading to minutes being unsealed more promptly.  Over the 12 years I served on the Oyster River School Board, I don’t remember unsealing more than a very few non-public minutes.  We did not conduct a regular review of sealed minutes.  I’ll bet there were minutes sealed beyond the time warranted.  But, because we didn’t even know what minutes were sealed, we didn’t know we needed to unseal them.

This bill is not retroactive.  It does not impose a burden on the public body to go through its files and list the sealed minutes.  But, there is nothing in this bill that keeps a public body from taking that step on their own initiative.  And, frankly, I hope when the list makes it easier to review sealed minutes, it prompts at least some public bodies to take that initiative.

This simple list will help shine a light on a place that is currently very dark.  Please contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to vote HB 1325 Ought to Pass.

 

 

HB 1202 will allow citizens to defend their reputation

David Taylor of Durham NH, a member of RTKNH, provided the following testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 1202.

This bill attempts to reduce what many consider the biggest loophole in the exemptions for non-public meetings: the reputation exemption, RSA 91-A:3, II(c).  In my 12 years on the Oyster River School Board I saw this exemption used a lot, and used very broadly.  In most cases in my experience, proper notice was not given.  In fact, in many cases the person being discussed did not know, especially when the person was a member of the general public.

Proper notice to the person is obviously needed for that person to exercise their right for the meeting to be open.  This right has been in the law since RSA 91-A was first passed in 1967.  The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that a similar provision required a specific notice be given to the subject of the meeting.  Stoneman v. Tamworth School District, 114 N.H. 371, 375 (1974).

http://www.orol.org/rtk/rtknh/6831-1974-05-31.html#p375

The court stated the purpose of these provisions is because “an open meeting … [is] a safeguard against improper official conduct”. Id. at 376.  This case was about RSA 91-A:3, II(a) on employees.  There is no specific case about this aspect of RSA 91-A:3, II(c), but the same arguments apply.

This bill not only makes clear that effective notice is required, but it also gives the person certain basic rights to attend the meeting to present their side of the story.  They would have the right to be present, to have a non-speaking counsel or representative, to speak on their behalf, and to record the session at their own expense.  Note that all the provisions of this bill are adapted directly from Massachusetts state law. Mass. G.L. c. 30A, § 21(a)(1).

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleIII/Chapter30A/Section21

Please contact the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to close this loophole and ensure citizens rights are guaranteed.  Please vote that HB 1202 Ought to Pass.

 

HB 1546 would eliminate minutes requirement for some county delegation meetings

The Right-to-Know Law requires meeting minutes whenever a quorum of a public body or agency has a meeting per RSA 91-A:2.

HB 1546 would allow for a meeting of a quorum of the county delegation without any record of such meeting when all they do is approve minutes. No meeting minutes would also mean no record of who was in attendance, how they voted regarding the approval of the minutes, nor a record of comments/corrections regarding the minutes being discussed.

The RSA 91- Preamble states “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.”  Allowing the County Delegation to meet without maintaining a record of who met, when they met, and the vote tally of who approved the minutes creates a veil of secrecy which contradicts the purpose of RSA 91-A.

County delegations should not be exempt from the requirement to record minutes of all their meetings per RSA 91-A:2.

Please contact your legislator and ask them to oppose HB 1546.

RTKNH meeting Saturday 1/18 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at 9:00 A.M. in Concord, NH at 8 North Main Street in the office of the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers.  We will discuss our positions on the following Right-to-Know bills submitted for this legislative session.

HB1202: relative to matters discussed in nonpublic session
Sponsors: Rep. DiLorenzo, Rock. 17; Rep. Kenney, Straf. 6; Rep. Read, Rock. 17; Rep. Balch, Hills. 38; Rep. Conley, Straf. 13; Rep. Wuelper, Straf. 3; Rep. Sylvia, Belk. 6; Rep. Meuse, Rock. 29; Sen. Giuda, Dist 2

HB1325: relative to minutes and decisions in nonpublic sessions under the right-to-know law. Sponsors: Rep. DiLorenzo, Rock. 17; Rep. Ulery, Hills. 37; Rep. Chase, Straf. 18; Rep. Langley, Hills. 8; Sen. Carson, Dist 14

HB1689: relative to minutes in nonpublic session
Sponsors: Rep. Yokela, Rock. 33; Rep. Yakubovich, Merr. 24; Rep. DeSimone, Rock. 14; Rep. Wuelper, Straf. 3

HB1559: relative to sealing records in nonpublic session
Sponsors: Rep. Yokela, Rock. 33; Rep. Yakubovich, Merr. 24; Rep. Wuelper, Straf. 3

HB1390: relative to access to ballots and verification counts of machine-counted ballots. Sponsors: Rep. Read, Rock. 17; Rep. T. Smith, Hills. 17; Rep. Vann, Hills. 24; Rep. DiLorenzo, Rock. 17; Rep. Horrigan, Straf. 6; Rep. Jack, Hills. 36; Rep. Frost, Straf. 16; Rep. Towne, Straf. 4; Rep. DesMarais, Carr. 6; Rep. Knirk, Carr. 3; Sen. Fuller Clark, Dist 21

HB1169: eliminate requirement for role call vote
Sponsors: Rep. J. Schmidt, Hills. 28; Rep. O’Brien, Hills. 36; Rep. Klee, Hills. 30

HB1170: adding a definition of “reasonably described”
Sponsors: Rep. J. Schmidt, Hills. 28

HB1307: allows public bodies to charge personnel costs for retrieval of records
Sponsors: Rep. J. Schmidt, Hills. 28

HB1546: relative to meeting minutes of county delegations.
Sponsors: Rep. Steven Smith, Sull. 11; Rep. Aron, Sull. 7; Rep. Cloutier, Sull. 10; Rep. Rollins, Sull. 6; Rep. Stapleton, Sull. 5

HB1524: prohibiting police from releasing information of certain non-violent offenders on social media before conviction.
Sponsors: Rep. Klein-Knight, Hills. 11; Rep. McNally, Straf. 10; Rep. Bouchard, Hills. 11; Rep. Sylvia, Belk. 6

HB1531: relative to the release of voting information in a presidential election.
Sponsors: Rep. Prout, Hills. 37; Rep. Edwards, Rock. 4; Rep. Costable, Rock. 3; Rep. Verville, Rock. 2; Rep. A. Lekas, Hills. 37; Rep. T. Lekas, Hills. 37; Rep. Torosian, Rock. 14

HB1529: prohibiting the release of the name of a mass shooter.
Sponsors: Rep. Hopper, Hills. 2; Rep. Potucek, Rock. 6

HB1673: relative to the definition of “public body”
Sponsors: Rep. McGuire, Merr. 29; Rep. T. Lekas, Hills. 37; Rep. Wuelper, Straf. 3

SB426: relative to exemptions from the right-to-know law
Sponsors: Sen. Chandley, Dist 11; Rep. Pantelakos, Rock. 25

Several of these bills, if passed, will erode your right to an open and transparent government.

The public is welcome to join us.  Please come and help us protect and improve your right to know.

NH Right to Know Articles of Interest

Right to Know Bills available for review

Most of the upcoming bills in the legislature which will effect a citizen’s right to know are now available for review on our blog.  Please check them out.  RTKNH will be publishing our position on these bills at a future date. Join us in the fight to protect your right to know and help us insure a more open and transparent government by getting involved. Join RTKNH today.

RTKNH meeting Saturday 12/21 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, December 21, 2019 via Conference Call.   We will discuss Right-to-Know bills submitted for this legislative session.

The public is welcome to join us.  Contact us for conference call-in number.