February 19, 2021
To: Honorable Members of the House Judiciary Committee Re: HB 108
The New Hampshire Press Association urges passage of House Bill 108 because it closes a consequential hole in the state’s Right-to-Know law.
Currently, minutes and decisions made in non-public sessions can be kept secret indefinitely if two-thirds of a public body agrees the minutes and decisions fall under special circumstances including the divulgence of the information likely would affect adversely the reputation of any person other than a member of the public body itself, or render the proposed action ineffective, or pertain to terrorism.
The problem is that the public has no clear and discernible accounting of these private sessions. Governmental bodies can skirt the Right-to-Know law by never disclosing why they met in private to discuss and decide public policy. We have too often heard the refrain “We will now enter private sessions to discuss a business matter.”
Consequently, the public is powerless to ensure the minutes of these meetings are made public once the governmental body in question determines that the reasons for the private sessions are no longer pertinent, as the law prescribes. What exists today is a situation where countless accountings of private governmental meetings are hidden from public review in perpetuity.
Indeed, provisions of RSA 91-A:3 III that allow private session information to be released when “in the opinion of a majority of members, the aforesaid circumstances no longer apply” never happens because there is no easily accessible accounting of these sessions.
What we have is a system that allows for what happens in private sessions to stay in private sessions. Certainly, no members of the committee believe that reality adheres to the principles of the public’s right to know.
The Press Association lauds this legislation for adeptly balancing the realities of governance with the rights of citizens to know what their public servants are doing and how they are doing it.
It does not force public officials to release validly constrained sensitive information. It puts no public official, community member or business interest at risk. It simply requires that public officials provide a reasonable and honest accounting of when they met in private and why.
Finally, this legislation does not place an unfair burden of compliance on public officials. It would require mininal effort to compose and maintain the required list.
The New Hampshire Press Association asks the Judiciary Committee to pass House Bill 108 to the full House with an out-to-pass recommendation.
|The New Hampshire Press Association|
President Howard AltschillerExecutive Editor Seacoast Media Group
Vice President: Mark GuerringuePublisher Conway Daily Sun
Secretary Melanie PlendaProject Manager Granite State News Collaborative
Assistant Secretary Vanessa PalangeValley News
Treasurer Geoff ForesterPhoto Editor Concord Monitor
Assistant Treasurer David BrooksConcord Monitor
Nancy West – Executive Editor, InDepthNH.org
Matt Burdette – Publisher/Editor. Nashua Telegraph
Dan Tuohy – Digital Engagement Producer, New Hampshire Public Radio
Keith Gentili – Publisher/Editor, The New Boston Beacon
Brendan McQuaid – President, New Hampshire Union Leader
Michael Casey – Associated Press
Rosemary Ford – Editor, Eagle-Tribune/Derry News
Sarah Pearson – Features Editor, Concord Monitor
Carol Robidoux – Publisher/Editor, Manchester Ink Link