February 19, 2021
To: Honorable Members of the House Judiciary Committee Re: HB 216 and 630
The New Hampshire Press Association supports the intent of House bills 216 and 630, but believes both are in need of changes to adequately ensure the people’s ability to constructively participate in government decision making once public health conditions improve to where congested group gatherings can safely return.
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected everyone’s lives and businesses. The New Hampshire Legislature is to be commended for its efforts to continue to do its job while finding innovative ways to allow public accessibility to the greatest extent possible.
But surely, we all can agree the current situation is far from ideal and should be a method of last resort moving forward.
What we are experiencing today as governments go about their business is akin to what we see happening in our schools. Yes, things are getting done, but the experience is stressful and frustrating for many with less than optimal outcomes.
Many of the policies governments have cobbled together to keep business moving were done so on the fly and without optimal enabling statutes. House bills 216 and 630 are an important step toward filling that void.
However, the Press Association is concerned that if passed without restriction these bills will leave open the possibility that what should be the exception could become the rule.
Therefore the Press Association supports the three amendments proposed by Right to Know New Hampshire:
1. Meetings held electronically and without a physical location should only be allowed
during emergencies or a state of emergency.
2. If, during the meeting, a member of the public notifies the public body that there are
problems with access, those problems must be stated in the minutes, and if it is
verified that problems with access existed, then all actions taken during that portion of
the meeting shall be null and void.
3. If the mechanism of public access to the meeting is capable of recording the meeting
at nominal cost, then the public body shall record the meeting as a public record. The
minutes for the meeting shall indicate that the meeting was recorded and the recording
is available to the public.
However the Judicial Committee decides to reconcile these two similar pieces of legislation, The New Hampshire Press Association urges the adoption of these amendments to ensure that remote governance is used only when absolutely necessary and when remote sessions are conducted that the people’s right to know it fully protected.
|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