What fees are associated with requesting public documents?
New Hampshire’s Access to Public Records law does not specify what fees a public agency may charge. The law does state that a public agency to charge for the actual cost of copying a records. However, the fees may not exceed the actual cost. The Act also permits for the state legislature to establish by law fees for copying records, to which a public agency must adhere.
What public documents are exempt from New Hampshire’s public access law?
New Hampshire’s public access law includes the following exemptions:
- Records of grand and petit juries
- Records pertaining to parole and pardon boards
- Personal school records of pupils
- Records relating to internal personnel practices
- Teacher certification records
To view all nine exemptions, click here
Do I need to identify myself or explain why I want a public record when requesting one from a public agency?
A public agency must provide any record for inspection and/or copying that does not fall under one of the exemptions listed in the state’s public access law. If the records are not immediately available, the agency must within five business days of the request, either make the record available, provide a written explanation for denying the request, or send a written acknowledgment of the request with a timeframe for how long it will take the agency to release the records or determine that they can not be released.
Which government branches are exempted from the public access law? Which ones are included?
The state legislature is not exempt from the public record statute. This includes executive sessions of committees.
The state’s executive branch is partially exempt. Executive sessions of committees are subject to the statute. However, records in the governor’s office do not fall within the scope of the public record law, with the exception of agency budget requests and income estimates submitted to the governor.
The state judiciary is not defined as a public body by the public record statute, and the courts are not required to adhere to any rules of disclosure under the act. Rather, access to court records is dictated by judicial decisions and their interpretations of the New Hampshire Constitution.
What public records are available online?
Click here to access New Hampshire’s e-government services. Through this site, you can verify professional licenses and the sexual offender registry, among others.
To view decisions issued by the New Hampshire Superior Court, click here.
To view court records and documents for high profile cases in New Hampshire, click here.
For New Hampshire census information, click here.
To view campaign receipts and expenditures for the state’s politicians, click here.
What can I do if a public agency refuses to release a document? Will I be responsible for attorney fees if I file a lawsuit?
If a public agency refuses to release a public record, you may appeal to the state superior court. New Hampshire state law requires that the courts give priority to proceedings that fall under the access to public records law.
If a public agency refuses to release a record that is considered public under state law and a court finds that the lawsuit was necessary for the information to become available to the public, the agency will be liable for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the plaintiff in a lawsuit. The court must also find that the agency knew or should have known that its actions were in violation of the state’s public records law. If the court determines that an employee of the public agency acted in bad faith, the employee may be held personally responsible for reimbursement of fees incurred.
If the court determines that a lawsuit against a public agency for access to public records or to a public meeting is frivolous or in bad faith, the plaintiff may be responsible for the attorneys’ fees incurred by the public agency.
If a public meeting was closed in violation of the state’s open meetings law, any action the public body took during the meeting may be invalidated if the circumstances warrant such action.
What is a public meeting?
A public proceeding is defined by New Hampshire state law as any meeting during which topics are discussed that affect the citizens of the state. This includes the general court, which is the state’s legislative body, the governor’s council, and any board or commission of the state’s agencies and authorities
The state defines a meeting as “the convening of a quorum of the membership of a public body to discuss or act upon a matter or matters over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.”
Your Rights at a Public Meeting
- Votes during an open meeting may not be taken by secret ballot except during town meetings, school district meetings and elections.
- You are permitted to use recording devices such as tape recorders, cameras and videotape equipment during open proceedings.
- The minutes and decisions of public proceedings must be made available to the public for inspection within 72 hours of the meeting, with some exceptions. The minutes should be treated as permanent records of the agency.
What meetings are permitted to be closed?
The following are examples of meetings that may be closed to the public:
- A chance meeting or a social meeting that was not intended for the purpose of discussing matters relating to government business, and during which no decisions are made
- Strategy or negotiation sessions related to collective bargaining
- Consultation with legal counsel
Below are examples of actions that may be taken or subjects that may be discussed during a meeting that is not open to the public:
- The dismissal, disciplining, promotion or compensation of an employee, as well as any investigation into charges against the employee. If the employee has a right to attend the meeting or requests that it be open, the meeting must be opened to the public.
- The hiring of a public employee
- The purchase, sale or lease of property, which, if discussed in public, might benefit interested parties whose intentions are contrary to those of the community.
- Applications before the adult parole board
- Security-related issues that bear on the immediate safety of security personnel or inmates at the state’s county correctional facilities.
- Matters relating to the preparation for and the carrying out of emergency functions
To view all of the exemptions, click here.