New Hampshire RSA 91-A Dealing with Right to Know

Attorney Dan Hynes sits on the House Judiciary Committee which is responsible for Right to know bills & legislation. Having a seat on this committee has provided him with extensive knowledge of how the right to know law works and resources for right to know violations.

In New Hampshire, openness of government is a paramount concern. The Right to know law (N.H. RSA 91-A) covers who it applies to, and what information you can obtain. The right to know is New Hampshire's equivalent of a freedom of information request (FOIA)

Right to know applies to government meetings and records

Government meetings must be open to the public and minutes and records must be made available for inspection. "Governmental records'' means any information created, accepted, or obtained by, or on behalf of, any public body, or a quorum or majority thereof, or any public agency in furtherance of its official function. Without limiting the foregoing, the term "governmental records'' includes any written communication or other information, whether in paper, electronic, or other physical form, received by a quorum or majority of a public body in furtherance of its official function, whether at a meeting or outside a meeting of the body. The term "governmental records'' shall also include the term "public records.''

There are some common exemptions to Right to know requests:

I. Records of grand and petit juries.
    I-a. The master jury list as defined in RSA 500-A:1, IV.
    II. Records of parole and pardon boards.
    III. Personal school records of pupils.
    IV. Records pertaining to internal personnel practices; confidential, commercial, or financial information; test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used to administer a licensing examination, examination for employment, or academic examinations; and personnel, medical, welfare, library user, videotape sale or rental, and other files whose disclosure would constitute invasion of privacy. Without otherwise compromising the confidentiality of the files, nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit a public body or agency from releasing information relative to health or safety from investigative files on a limited basis to persons whose health or safety may be affected.
    V. Teacher certification records in the department of education, provided that the department shall make available teacher certification status information.
    VI. Records pertaining to matters relating to the preparation for and the carrying out of all emergency functions, including training to carry out such functions, developed by local or state safety officials that are directly intended to thwart a deliberate act that is intended to result in widespread or severe damage to property or widespread injury or loss of life.
    VII. Unique pupil identification information collected in accordance with RSA 193-E:5.
    VIII. Any notes or other materials made for personal use that do not have an official purpose, including but not limited to, notes and materials made prior to, during, or after a governmental proceeding.
    IX. Preliminary drafts, notes, and memoranda and other documents not in their final form and not disclosed, circulated, or available to a quorum or a majority of the members of a public body.

Right to know also generally doesn't apply to motor vehicle records.

Further, a government agency can deny a request if it is over burdensome/overly broad.

Procedure to obtain records

The procedure to obtain a record is to put your request in writing. "Within 10 days of a receipt of written application, the agency head, or designee, shall respond to the request. Whenever the agency head denies release of requested information, the agency head shall send the requestor a letter identifying the specific criteria which are the basis of the denial. Should release be denied due to other law, the letter shall identify the specific state law, federal law, or federal regulation prohibiting the release. Otherwise the agency head shall provide the requested data or set a date on which the data shall be provided."

What if you are denied the information?

If the government entity denies your request, you can appeal this to Superior Court. Those hearings are given priority on the court docket and you can often get a decision fairly quickly. If you need a lawyer to represent you in obtaining Right to know information, or filing a suit in Superior Court after getting denied, give us a call and we can go over how we can help.

Attorney's Fees

Presently, you can only recover attorneys fees if you win under limited circumstances. Dan Hynes has submitted a bill to the legislature that would award attorney's fees more broadly if the bill becomes law. An update on this law will be forthcoming as the bill progresses through the legislature. It presently got an ought to pass recommendation from judiciary. You can follow the bill here:

https://legiscan.com/NH/text/HB365/id/1449654

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