N.H. House kills proposal for right-to-know appeals process

Monitor staff
Published: 4/26/2018 7:14:32 PM

A proposal to create a new appeals process for right-to-know disputes that avoided the courts was struck down in the House on Thursday after opponents raised concerns that it was costly and unnecessary.

In a decisive vote, 212-103, House lawmakers moved to kill Senate Bill 555. The bill would establish an office of an ombudsman, appointed by the governor and executive councilors, who could help adjudicate conflicts between citizens and public officials over right-to-know requests. Under current law, a citizen or entity that wants to contest an official’s refusal to turn over documents must file a motion in Superior Court, which critics say is costly and can be a deterrent.

SB 555, born out of the recommendations of a study commission last year, would allow citizens to bring their cases before the ombudsman for a ruling, before resorting to the courts. And it would create an oversight commission that could monitor the ombudsman and suggest changes to the appeals process.

“People have a right to public records,” said Rep. Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson. He added that the bill could head off court disputes that can cost towns millions, potentially acting as a “cost-saving measure” for both parties.

But Rep. Peter Spanos, R-Winnisquam, said the costs of creating and staffing the new ombudsman offices were too unclear.

“Our courts are already well-equipped to address these complaints,” he said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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