CONCORD – A group of nine state Senate Republicans are about to unveil legislation that would specifically make the governor’s office subject to the state’s Right-To-Know law and would also forbid any public employee from engaging in election activities while on the job.
Senate Bill 205 was posted earlier this week after the state Republican Party filed a right-to-know request with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office seeking all records for Hassan’s out-of-state travel for the month of January 2015.
NHGOP chairman Jennifer Horn did not try to hide the fact that the request was politically-oriented, charging that Hassan is using her position as a “steppingstone” to run for the U.S. Senate next year. She also asked for documents showing she transferred her authority to the Senate President when she left the state.
Hassan legal counsel Lucy Hodder replied that under an interpretation by the Attorney General’s Office, the Right-to-Know law does not apply to the governor’s office. She responded under Part I, Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution, which requires the governor to be “open accessible, accountable and responsive” and says the public’s right to records “shall not be unreasonably restricted.”
Hodder, however, listed only one out-of-state stop for Hassan — a stop in Kittery, Maine, on Jan. 5 for an event marking the groundbreaking of construction on the Sarah Long Bridge replacement project.
Horn responded with a detailed letter seeking “all written guidance produced by the Attorney General” regarding the interpretation that the governor’s office is not subject to the statute.
Democrats countered by asking Sen. Kelly Ayotte to detail her political travels.
Senate Bill 205 makes it clear that “the office of the governor” would be subject to the Right-To-Know law.
It also addresses a controversy that arose last August, when the NHGOP questioned whether any members of the governor’s staff played any role in the shooting of a Hassan campaign television ad in her State House office. The governor’s office said no staff was involved.
Senate Bill 205 says that “no person employed by a public employer…or employed by the New Hampshire (Legislature) or the office of the governor shall electioneer while in the performance of his or her official duties or use government property, including, but not limited to, telephones, facsimile machines, vehicles, and computers, for electioneering.”
The bill’s chief sponsor is Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night. Co-sponsors are eight other Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.
In a statement NHGOP Chairman Jennifer Horn said, “New Hampshire’s Right to Know law clearly applies to the office of the governor, and it is unfortunate that Governor Hassan believes that she should not be held to the same transparency requirements that apply to local boards of selectmen. We applaud Senate Republicans for working to strengthen this important law and make New Hampshire state government more open and transparent. Governor Hassan is not above the law, and she should not be able to simply ignore Right to Know requests as she prepares to use the corner office as a stepping stone for her political career. New Hampshire deserves a full-time governor who is focused on moving our state forward instead of moving on to a United States Senate campaign.”