CONCORD, N.H. — Two measures that ultimately failed in New Hampshire were among dozens of bills state Legislatures debated this session that would close or limit public access to government records and meetings, according to a review by The Associated Press and numerous state press associations.
One of the bills would have exempted building plans and construction drawings connected to a local building permit from the state’s right-to-know law. It was aimed at protecting security data included in some building plans, but opponents argued it was too broad.
“While there may be some limited circumstances which may warrant non-disclosure, this bill does not adequately and narrowly identify those circumstances,” David Saad, of Rumney, who heads a right-to-know advocacy group, told lawmakers in January. “Nor does it properly address the requirements for balancing the public interest in disclosure against the government’s interest in non-disclosure and the individual’s privacy interest in non-disclosure. Instead, the blanket exemption of all building plans and construction drawings is too broad and would completely deny public access to these records.”
Lawmakers also heard from opponents who said public access to building plans was necessary to ensure fair application of tax assessments and public safety codes. And Rep. Kurt Wuelper, R-Strafford, noted that detailed security data could be redacted in individual files. The House defeated the bill in February.
The second bill involved the hiring of public sector employees. The current law includes “the hiring of any person as a public employee” as a matter that can be considered or acted upon in private by town or city officials. The bill rejected by the House in March would have added “the initial screen of applications for public sector employment.”
“All applicants, even for public jobs, deserve the right to privacy during the hiring process,” Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, said during the debate.
Opponents argued that the bill would have unnecessarily obscured hiring practices and reminded lawmakers that the preamble to the right-to-know law reads “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society.”
The AP review found that most of the proposals nationwide did not become law, but freedom-of-information advocates said the number of bills was striking and they expect more next year.