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Editorial: Slapping a price tag on public information

By TNH Editorial Staff

group of elected officials in the New Hampshire House of Representatives are trying to put a hefty price on public information. The public needs to step forward and tell our leaders that such a proposition will not stand.

House Bill 646 would allow “public bodies or agencies to charge for the costs of retrieval of public records under the right-to-know law.” Rep. Pat Long (D-Manchester) is the primary sponsor of the bill and cited substantial labor hours spent on filling these requests as the reason for the proposition. Supporters of the bill also said hours are spent filling broad requests.

Is charging the public for free information really the best way to approach this problem? According to an article that appeared in the Concord Monitor on Feb. 13, “The state’s Right-to-Know law requires municipalities to keep their public records in an easily accessible format…” It’s 2015 and these municipalities should be investing in technology that can make these records easier to access, thus cutting down on the alleged labor hours spent finding the information. While it does not completely cut the public off from accessing information, it certainly makes things harder for a portion of the population. Why should citizens with more money to spend have access to this information, but not others? That does not sound very democratic.

Such a bill is very dangerous to democracy in the precedent it would set. If politicians can put a price on public information, what else are they willing to limit access to? The benefit of living in a democratic society is the access we as citizens have to the government and the transparency of its institutions. Limiting access cuts right into those fundamentals of a healthy democratic system.

Aside from the public’s right to know, this situation reestablishes the importance of having reporters cover the state government. As state house bureaus continue to close and coverage dwindles, radical officials will have an easier time passing propositions that grant the government more power and limit the ability for the public to participate, such as HB 646.

Our elected officials are supposed to act in the interest of those they represent. What group is Rep. Long representing that wants to pay for free information? It is nothing more than a self-serving bill that takes more money out of taxpayers already thinning pockets.

If money is being spent on the labor it takes responding to Right-to-Know requests, we consider that to be money well spent.

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