Bill that changes RTK law from 'every citizen' to 'any person' headed to Senate vote

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Since April 2023 the City of Rochester has refused The Rochester Voice digital Right to Know requests on the basis that its editor, Harrison Thorp, is not a citizen of New Hampshire. (Senate Judiciary screenshot from Tuesday meeting)

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series focusing on The Rochester Voice v. City of Rochester complaint over the city's refusal to honor digital Right to Know requests made by The Rochester Voice. The city of Rochester contends it doesn't have to comply with such requests, because Rochester Voice editor Harrison Thorp is not a New Hampshire citizen.

CONCORD - "Every citizen" may soon be replaced by "any person" in state statute after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to move House Bill 1069 to the full Senate.

HB 1069 allows "any person" to request and receive government documents electronically instead of having to show up at municipal departments during regular business hours to file a request.

An amendment to HB1069 drafted by House Judiciary Chair Bob Lynn specifically changes verbiage in 91-A from "every citizen" to "any person," so if the bill passes the Senate the City of Rochester will no longer be able to refuse The Rochester Voice Right to Know documents, based on the The Rochester Voice and its publisher being domiciled in Maine.

Since April 2023 the City of Rochester has refused The Rochester Voice digital Right to Know requests on the basis that its editor, Harrison Thorp, is not a citizen of New Hampshire.

During testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in January Thorp related his ongoing struggle with the City of Rochester to receive government documents in pursuit of investigative reporting for The Rochester Voice, which greatly irked Lynn, a former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Lynn drafted amendment 0406h, which changes the wording of 91-A to replace "every citizen" with "any person."

Rochester City Attorney Terence O'Rourke argued before the Right to Know Ombudsman's Office in October and earlier this month in Strafford Superior Court that the word "citizen" currently in 91-A refers to New Hampshire citizens only, precluding The Rochester Voice from receiving both 91-A protections and digital documents.

During the city's appeal of the Ombudsman's decision to make no finding, O'Rourke argued on May 2 before Strafford Superior Court Judge Daniel E. Will that Thorp had no standing to get digital RTK documents because he lives in Maine.

"Considering that Mr. Thorp runs a news organization that covers Rochester, does that move the needle?" asked Judge Will.

"No," O'Rourke replied.

HB 1069 on Wednesday was unanimously voted to go on the consent calendar, however there may be a minor floor amendment that would bring the bill more in line with HB1002, which also deals with Right to Know requests.

Strafford 6 state rep Cliff Newton, R-Rochester, said the unanimous vote in the Senate Judiciary was good news for news organizations like The Rochester Voice.

"The Senate Judiciary realizes that people have a right to know and especially members of the press," he said. "I count on The Rochester Voice to get the news in my city, and government information should not be obstructed. There should be free access, so we can know what government's up to, and we're not getting that in the city of Rochester."

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