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At what price? Increasing cost of open government

February 01. 2016 9:49PM

Should we charge a toll when a Manchester resident wants to walk into City Hall?

Manchester Rep. Patrick Long wants to increase the cost of open government by allowing public officials to charge people directly for doing their jobs.

HB 1611 would gut New Hampshire’s Right to Know law by adding huge fees for public record requests. Local and state bureaucrats could bill people seeking access to public records for the time it takes to compile those records. If you wanted to review old minutes from your local school board, a municipal employee would estimate how many hours it would take to find them, and make you pay up front.

Such an expensive hurdle would surely chill the public’s eagerness to inspect public records. Maybe that is Long’s intent.

Providing public access to public records is not an inconvenience to government employees. It is an important part of their job. Our taxes and fees already pay to make public records available for inspection.

The House Judiciary Committee takes up HB 1611 this morning, and should send a strong signal about its commitment to open government by recommending its defeat.

The Union Leader joins the Nashua Telegraph, the New Hampshire Press Association, ACLU-NH, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, the New Hampshire Coalition for Open Democracy, New Hampshire Right to Life and the New England First Amendment Coalition in opposing HB 1611. Our government should not use fees to limit our right to know.

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