NEFAC Testifies Against N.H. Bill Allowing Secret Meeting Minutes

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently testified against a New Hampshire bill that would make it easier for government to keep meeting minutes secret.

Under state law, government bodies are allowed to meet in non-public sessions so long as minutes and decisions are publicly disclosed within 72 hours of the meeting.

SB342 would add an exemption to this rule for when the information pertains to “hiring, firing, and other personnel discipline and investigations, or consideration of legal advice.”

“Public officials, after all, work for us and are paid by taxpayer dollars,” testified Gilles Bissonnette on Jan. 25 on behalf of NEFAC, the ACLU of New Hampshire and The Bow Times. “If they have engaged in misconduct that relates to their official duties and this is presented to and discussed by a public body, we believe that information should generally be made public.”

“However,” Bissonnette said, “this bill potentially would ignore this public interest and presume that such information is categorically secret.”

Bissonnette provided two primary reasons why the bill should be opposed:

(1) This area of law concerning how public “personnel discipline and investigation” information should be handled is currently in flux. There are two pending cases potentially implicating the interpretation of this part of the New Hampshire Right to Know Law.

(2) The bill could weaken the existing law by making information concerning “personnel discipline and investigations” less public and mandate secrecy of meeting minutes without examining the public’s interest.

“Though it may not be the intent, this bill, however, seems to suggest in the context of non-public session minutes . . . that such information should never be public and that there is never a public interest in disclosing this information,” Gilles said. “This is inconsistent with Chapter 91-A, which presumes transparency.”

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition regularly testifies in matters involving First Amendment freedoms and government transparency. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry and Connecticut Public.