COVID-19 UPDATE: Governor’s Emergency Order 12 Allows Remote Access for Public Meetings Under Right-to-Know-Law

New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law, RSA Chapter 91-A, expresses and protects the fundamental principle that “openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society.”

Subject to certain exceptions (like meetings with counsel and discussions regarding personnel matters), it ensures that the public can attend any meeting where a quorum of a “public body” assembles to conduct official business.

Typically, such meetings are held in physical locations where the public body and members of the public can assemble in person. The law already permits members of public bodies to participate remotely, via video or teleconferencing, in cases of emergency. But it contained no provisions for members of the public to do so, or otherwise to convene the meeting in a non-physical location.

As part of the emergency response to the Covid-19 virus, Governor Sununu has proscribed public gatherings larger than 10.

In Emergency Order 12, issued on Monday, March 23, 2020, the Governor made adjustments to the Right-to-Know Law to permit public meetings to occur on an emergency basis.

The Order announces that an “emergency” exists, and members of a public body are thereby allowed to participate remotely under the existing provisions. (There must still be a quorum of members participating.)

The Order also provides that, for the duration of the emergency, there need not be a physical place for the public to come and access the remote meeting so long as:

  1. The public body provides access to the meeting through via telephone, video connection, or some other remote means;
  2. The public body provides notice to the public on how to access the meeting;
  3. The public body provides some way for the public to contact it if problems arise with remote access; and
  4. The meeting adjourns if the public can’t access it via the remote method.

Please reach out to your contacts at Orr & Reno with any questions about how the Emergency Order might impact your rights to attend or participate in a public meeting.

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