Right-to-Know Bill Passes in N.H. House

Concord — A bill to create a right-to-know ombudsman and citizens’ commission received initial approval in the House on Thursday, advancing an effort that supporters say will make it easier to resolve disputes over records requests.

Senate Bill 555 would establish an office of an ombudsman, appointed by the governor and executive councilors, who could help adjudicate conflicts between citizens and entities seeking documents and public officials.

The new office would give citizens an alternative venue to challenge the denial of records requests. Currently, that requires a hearing in Superior Court, a process that carries legal costs and that supporters of the law argue can drive away would-be litigants. The new office would accept citizen complaints, notify the public body and issue a ruling within 30 days.

The ombudsman would have broad powers, able to compel the delivery of records, interviews with parties and ultimately order the disclosure of records. Any of the office’s findings then could be appealed through the court process.

Under the proposed law, the appointed official must be a member of the New Hampshire bar with at least 10 years of legal experience. Read more…