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.

 

 

Advertisements

HB 396 will require citing specific exemption when records are denied

RTKNH testified in support of HB 396  which will change the Right-to-Know Law and require citing the specific exemption when record requests are denied.

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

RTKNH receives citizen inquiries from across the state as we are a resource people turn to when they feel their public officials are not lawfully responding to their right to know requests.

In 2018, we received 68 inquiries.  This was a 15% increase over 2017.  An overwhelming majority of these inquiries are the result of record requests which are denied or delayed.  In many of these instances, the public officials do not provide an adequate explanation for the denial or delay.  Without an adequate explanation, citizens feel their record requests are being stonewalled, they are unable to exercise their right to know, and they lose trust in their government.

The existing law does state that when record requests are denied, the denial must be “in writing with reasons”, however, this language is too vague.  Often, public officials simply state that the records are exempt from disclosure and provide no further explanation.

Without a statement of the specific exemption relied upon for the denial, the citizen has little confidence that the public official has completed the necessary due diligence to identify the lawful exemption for each record withheld from disclosure.

Article 8, Part 1 of the NH Constitution states that our government is “at all times accountable to” the people.  Being accountable should include providing a sufficient and lawful explanation when information is being withheld from the people.

 

 

 

 

NH Right to Know Articles of Interest

House Bill 103 to establish an Ombudsman violates Study Commission recommendations

Author: David Saad, RTKNH President

Last year, SB 555 was drafted in response to the recommendations of the 13 member Legislative Right-to-Know(RTK) Study Commission created by the passage of HB 178.  I was one of the 13 members on the Study Commission.  I was also one of the members tasked with writing the Final Report published by the Study Commission and I contributed to the drafting of SB 555.

After 2 months of meetings, the study commission unanimously agreed that citizens needed a grievance resolution process which is easier, cheaper, faster and results in less cost for all parties.  Establishing an independent Ombudsman and a Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission was the recommendation after considering a number of alternatives.

While HB 103 includes some of the original language of SB 555, the bill includes many changes which violate the recommendations of the commission.   Specifically, this bill:

  • Adds a $300 fee to file a complaint with the Ombudsman and removes the language that citizen’s initiated appeals shall have no filing fee or surcharge. The Study Commission recognized the need to ‘provide the public with an easier, less expensive… process to resolve complaints’.  The $300 fee is higher than the cost to file a petition in court so it more expensive not less expensive.  Any fees should be nominal since many times the citizen is fighting to prove a RTK violation which is a violation against all citizens and in the public interest.
  • Eliminates citizen oversight of the Ombudsman. The Study Commission agreed that the Ombudsman should be established with oversight by a citizen’s Right-to-Know Appeals commission. The Right-to-Know Appeals commission would serve a critical role which includes establishing policies and procedures for the Appeals process and educating interested parties on the Right-to-Know Law to increase awareness, compliance, and minimize future violations.  They will also compile statistics and make recommendations to the legislature concerning proposed changes to the law.
  • Attaches the ombudsman to the department of justice. The Study Commission spent a great deal of time deliberating on the need for the utmost need for impartially by the Ombudsman.  The study commission believed the Attorney General’s Office would not be a viable option since the Attorney General’s Office represents state agencies in Chapter 91-A disputes and the Attorney General’s Office itself is the recipient of many right-to-know requests which would be a conflict of interest.  For these reasons, and out of concern for citizen’s perceptions, the study commission determined the Attorney General’s Office may have difficulty performing the impartial role of grievance resolution.

RTKNH strongly supports the need for an ombudsman to handle Right-to-Know complaints, however, we oppose HB 103 because it goes against several of the recommendations of the Study Commission.

RTKNH meeting Saturday 1/19 @ 9 a.m

Right to Know NH will meet on Saturday, January 19, 2019 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 Right to Know (RSA 91-A) bills which have been submitted for the upcoming 2019 legislative session.  The public is welcome to join us.

Right to Know training to be held January 16th in Gilsum NH

On Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at 7 PM, Right to Know NH President David Saad will present a Right to Know training event at the Gilsum Public Library in Gilsum NH. A Powerpoint presentation covering an overview of the Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A) will be followed by a question and answer session. Officials from area towns as well as all interested citizens are encouraged to attend this free event. Light refreshments will be provided. The Gilsum Public Library is located at 650 Rte 10 in Gilsum. RSVP is encouraged for seating but not required by emailing Vicki Ayer at victoria.ayer@yahoo.com

RTKNH seeks your support for bill to require written reasons for denial of records

The majority of Right-to-Know complaints have to do with records requests either being delayed, denied, or records being redacted without sufficient justification for the redaction.  Bill LSR-2019-0403 addresses the issue by requiring the public body to furnish reasons, in writing, for the delay or denial of records.    When records are denied, it further requires the specific exemption relied on for the denial.  Currently, many public bodies error on the side of denying records because they don’t have to justify their denial to the citizen.  This bill requires them to justify, in writing, why they are denying records.

Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo, Sen. Bob Giuda, Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, Rep. Jordan Ulery, Rep. Timothy Horrigan, Rep. Kurt Wuelper, and Rep. Jason Janvrin have sponsored this bill (LSR 2019-0403).  Please contact your legislator and ask them to sign on as a cosponsor for LSR 2019-0403.