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March 25, 2014

N.H. may require meeting agendas to be set 72 hours before meeting

Bill would require agendas to be set 72 hours before meeting

Lawmakers are considering a bill that could mean a major change to public meetings.

House Bill 1591 would require agendas for all public meetings be posted 72 hours prior to the meeting. Currently, they only have to be posted 24 hours prior to the meeting.

“It’s cumbersome,” Pelham Selectmen’s Chairman Ed Gleason said. “If something pops up that requires immediate attention, it’s just going to delay that process.”

The bill was recommended by the House Judiciary Committee last week, 9-8.

The only exception to the law would be under emergency situations. An emergency is defined by RSA 91-A:2 to be an “immediate undelayed action which is deemed to be imperative by the chairman.”

“It’s generally understood that emergencies are only when irreparable harm would happen if the board did not meet,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston. But Weyler said he doesn’t support it as it is written currently.

“The whole meaning of it has changed,” he said.

The bill was originally written to establish a grievance commission on Right-to-Know issues. But support dried up for that idea and Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, amended the bill to focus on the notice for public meetings.

“Some of the smaller towns post their meetings the day before and you have to be at Town Hall that day to know what they will be discussing,” Watrous said. “In today’s modern world, people need to know things ahead of time to schedule sitters and clear their schedules to be there.”

Cordell Johnston, government affairs counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said the bill would just create problems.

“We’re very concerned about that change,” Johnston said. “Basically any decision that comes up will have to be delayed three days.”

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