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Right-to-know progress: A good week for 'sunshine'

March 17. 2018 11:57PM

Last week was Sunshine Week, and the New Hampshire Legislature did its part to pull back the curtains a little bit more on government in the Granite State.

The Senate narrowly approved SB 555, which built on the recommendations of a commission studying how to improve New Hampshire's right-to-know law. The bill would set up an ombudsman to help settle disputes when government agencies deny public information requests. Currently, the only option for citizens denied access to public records is to go to court.

SB 555 would set up a cumbersome appeals commission to oversee the ombudsman, which we think is unnecessary. But the bill is a step forward.

Meanwhile, the House passed a pair of right-to-know bills. HB 1788 caps the per-page price for copies requested under the right-to-know law. Some towns had abused the statute by charging more for records than the actual cost of photocopies.

HB 1579 tightened reporting requirements when government bodies go into "non-meetings" exempt from the right-to-know law. The public has a right to know what government is doing behind closed doors, even when the specifics remain confidential.

The House did vote down one key reform, rejecting HB 1789. This would have prevented government agencies from charging for electronic documents. The current statute only requires citizens to pay the actual cost of copying records. It costs nothing to attach an email.

Despite another nor'easter, it was a good week for sunshine in the Granite State.

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