Several groups, from the the ACLU of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Press Association to the libertarian conservative group Americans for Prosperity, opposed the bill. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
A Newmarket lawmaker has withdrawn a bill that would have added as much as a $15 hourly charge to search for, redact, and provide public records requested under the state’s right-to-know law. Currently the law allows public offices to charge only for copying records.
Several groups, from the the ACLU of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Press Association to the libertarian conservative group Americans for Prosperity, opposed the bill, saying it could cost the public hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get public records.
Democratic Rep. Michael Cahill said the opposition from such a broad group of organizations concerned enough lawmakers that he withdrew the bill. He previously withdrew another bill that would have limited right-to-know requests to New Hampshire residents.
Cahill said he had proposed the bill to discourage the increasing number of overbroad records requests that appear intended to harass public agencies, not hold the government accountable. In several cases, he said, the person who filed the request did not pick up the records requested.
That includes one person who asked the Governor Wentworth School District for all course materials used by one fifth grade teacher, “including curricula, reading lists, and copies of all posters, pictures, or other items that are present on the walls, desks, and bookshelves, or otherwise present in (the) classroom.”
The legislation also would have allowed public agencies to ask a court to determine the reasonableness of the request before fulfilling it. The New Hampshire Municipal Association helped Cahill draft the bill at the request of its members.
Cahill hopes the newly created state right-to-know ombudsman, which can investigate complaints from the public when a records request is denied, will help reduce the number of right-to-know requests intended to harass public offices. That office can determine whether the records requested must be provided under the right-to-know law.
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