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Lawmakers approve bills to strengthen Right-to-Know laws

State House Bureau

March 15. 2018 8:46PM
Redacted police reports are shown in this file photo. (Jason Schreiber/Correspondent file)

CONCORD — Lawmakers passed three bills strengthening the state’s Right-to-Know law on Thursday, including adoption of the key recommendations from a Right-to-Know study commission that examined the law over the past year.

That commission, chaired by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, recommended the creation of a Citizens Right to Know Appeals Board and a Right to Know Ombudsman to mediate disputes that arise over access to public records.

The only alternative now for people whose requests are denied is to take their cases to Superior Court, at considerable cost.

SB 555, which contained the study commission recommendations, was approved 13-11 in the Senate, but will still have to clear the House.

“This bill will level the playing field and save communities significant amounts of money as well by avoiding court cases,” said Giuda. “This is about transparency in government. This is information people are entitled to by law, but is being denied to them by process.”

The House dealt with three Right-to-Know bills.

HB 1788, setting a maximum rate of 10 cents per page for copies provided under Right-to Know requests, was approved in a vote of 181-141.

HB 1579, regarding closed-door meetings convened under the Right-to-Know law, was approved 168-161.

The bill requires public bodies to keep records of so-called “non-meetings” specifically exempted from the Right-to-Know law. The records would contain the names of members and other persons appearing, the beginning and ending dates and times.

The only Right-to-Know initiative to be defeated was HB 1789, which would forbid public bodies from charging for fulfilling requests via email or other form of electronic delivery.

“The majority agreed that this bill goes too far,” said Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham. “Providing electronic records often incurs substantial costs and there should be some way to recover those costs.”

The committee recommendation to kill the bill was adopted, 213-117.

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