Governor Says Proposed Changes to Right-to-Know Law Could Unintentionally Undercut Public's Right to Access Government

From the Office of Governor John Lynch

CONCORD - Gov. John Lynch said today that proposed changes to the right-to-know law could unintentionally undercut the right of New Hampshire citizens to access and participate in government decisions, and asked a Senate Committee to amend the bill to better protect the public.

Gov. Lynch applauded the members of the Right-to-Know Study Commission, which drafted the legislation (HB 626), for working diligently to attempt to ensure that the public has the same right to access government records created with new technology, such as email, as they do paper records.

" Information technology cannot be allowed to frustrate New Hampshire's commitment to openness and accountability in government. We must do everything possible to ensure each citizen has an enforceable right to access public records and meetings, " Gov. Lynch wrote the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee.

" I applaud many of the recommendations codified in the proposed legislation. New definitions make it clear that records stored on computer or by electronic means are covered by the law. New provisions clarify government's obligation to retain governmental records, and the proposed bill allows for storage in electronic form when appropriate. "

However, Gov. Lynch said, that some of the provisions of the legislation unintentionally would allow the public's business to be conducted outside of the public's eye or without meaningful public participation.

" In particular, I share concerns that provisions in the proposed bill regarding email communications might enable government officials to circumvent the quorum and open public meeting requirements of the law by authorizing non-public, sequential emails among various members of boards and commissions, " Gov. Lynch wrote.

That change, Gov. Lynch said, could allow members of public boards to hold all discussions by email prior to the meeting, and then simply ratify the decision at a meeting without the public having the opportunity to hear the discussion.

" I ask the Senate to consider amendments to the bill that would expressly prohibit the use of sequential emails between board or commission members that would violate the spirit of the Right-to-Know law. "

A copy of Gov. Lynch's letter is attached.


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March 22, 2006


The Honorable Sheila Roberge, Chairman
Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee
State House, Room 103
Concord, NH 03301

Re: HB 626-FN-LOCAL, relative to the right-to-know law

Dear Senator Roberge and Committee Members:

I recognize the diligent work of the Right-to-Know Study Commission and I support the Legislature's efforts to update the State's Right-to-Know law. Recent computer and technology advancements have dramatically improved the ability of state and local governments to provide services and information to New Hampshire's citizens. New Hampshire's state and local governments have a long tradition of reliance on volunteer citizen participation, and technology improvements have made it far easier for some individuals to become actively involved in state affairs. Information technology also has modernized our methods of communication, and many citizens now have the ability to conduct government business from remote locations.

These benefits, however, pose new challenges. Information technology cannot be allowed to frustrate New Hampshire's commitment to openness and accountability in government. We must do everything possible to ensure each citizen has an enforceable right to access public records and meetings.

I applaud many of the recommendations codified in the proposed legislation. New definitions make it clear that records stored on computer or by electronic means are covered by the law. New provisions clarify government's obligation to retain governmental records, and the proposed bill allows for storage in electronic form when appropriate.

At the same, I believe that the proposed legislation must be improved to ensure that meetings and decision-making by public officials can be accessed in a timely and complete manner. In particular, I share concerns that provisions in the proposed bill regarding email communications might enable government officials to circumvent the quorum and open public meeting requirements of the law by authorizing non-public, sequential emails among various members of boards and commissions. I ask the Senate to consider amendments to the bill that would expressly prohibit the use of sequential emails between board or commission members that would violate the spirit of the Right-to-Know law. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

John H. Lynch
Governor