Editor’s note: The committee chairman is state Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson
By David Saad
As the country was celebrating sunshine week, one NH legislative committee was banning the recording of their public meeting – a clear violation of the Right-to-Know law.
On March 13th, the Finance Committee Division I was conducting a public meeting. While called a work session, it was a public meeting nonetheless.
Here is a summary of the events which took place.
David Ridley attends a legislative committee work session and starts to video record.
The Chair says “There’s no photography in the committee room”.
Ridley asks “Under what law would I be prohibited from filming?”
The Chair says: “We have house rules; please direct that question to the Speaker’s office”
Security is summoned and tells Ridley he can’t record “By request of the chair”
Security is not willing to state the law or rule which forbids cameras during the work session.
Ridley continues to film the work session.
While he is recording, Someone says “Sir, you are being very disruptive to our meeting”
When he asks how is he being disruptive, a committee member replies ““You are using a camera and we have house rules that you’re not supposed to be using a camera”.
Security later says “No recording because it’s not a public hearing” “It’s a house rule, its disruptive to the hearing”.
The chairperson stated that recording the work session was against house rules. However, according to House Rule #110:
Open Meetings. All meetings of any committee of the House and Senate shall be open to the public subject to the provisions of N.H. RSA 91-A.
And RSA 91-A:2 II says ” …all meetings…shall be open to the public… Any person shall be permitted to use recording devices, including, but not limited to, tape recorders, cameras, and videotape equipment, at such meetings.”
Another committee member also stated recording was against house rules. A total of 9 committee members were in attendance and not one of them knew house rule #110 or was willing to speak up and correct the violation. That’s unfortunate, because had another member spoke up they could have invoked House Rule #100 (f) which requires the Chairperson “To explain or clarify any rule of procedure upon request”.
Security apparently did not know house rule #110 but they were certainly willing to enforce a house rule that no one was willing to reference and that, in fact, did not exist.
What transpired here is typical of what happens all too often in public meetings around the state. Officials tell the public you can’t do something that the Right-to-Know law says you can do. But the officials don’t back up their position when asked. Then, the simple request of asking for the law or rule to support their position is used to claim that the person is being ‘disruptive’.
This incident is just one more example which vividly demonstrates that New Hampshire public officials, at all levels of government, need more training in the Right-to-Know law.
For additional press coverage of this violation: