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Bar News - August 15, 2008

Summary of 2008 Changes to New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A)

The following paragraphs constitute the introduction to the document prepared by John A. Lassey discussing the changes to the Right-to-Know Law. Read the document, with footnotes.

With the passage of House Bill 1408, the 2008 New Hampshire Legislature responded to a request made in 2001 by the Supreme Court that the Legislature amend the Stateís Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A) to explicitly recognize the major role of electronic communication and computerization of government records in the 21st Century.

Two years after the Supreme Courtís request, the Legislature created a commission to study access to governmental proceedings and records in light of advancing computer technology and the increasing sophistication with which government at all levels conducts the publicís business.1

After meeting regularly over a one-year period, the Right-to-Know Study Commission recommended extensive changes to RSA 91-A in its Final Report of October 29, 2004. However, because of controversy over certain proposed changes to the law, attempts over the next few years to enact such legislation were defeated until this year when the Legislature passed House Bill 1408, which became effective July 2, 2008.

Local officials will notice many new provisions in the legislation, but most of them will not require substantive changes in the way in which municipalities conduct their business. The passage of the changes will in no way dilute the overall purpose of the Right-to-Know Law, as expressed in its preamble, which is "to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people." Nor will the new changes affect what has been a long-standing practice of the courts to "broadly construe provisions favoring disclosure and interpret the exemptions restrictively."

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