CONCORD - A bill that would erode The Rochester Voice's ability to obtain Right to Know documents like those that exposed the City of Rochester's flawed land buy of a Highland Street parcel for a third fire station was sent back to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
HB 1002 passed the full house earlier this month, 193-179, but State Rep Lisa Clark, R-Meredith, asked for reconsideration.
"I didn't understand the bill," she said on Thursday. "And a lot misinterpreted what the bill was about and would like to have a chance to change their vote."
Strafford 19 Rep Kelley Potenza agreed with Smart.
"I urge you to reconsider," she told the House floor on Thursday. "New info has come to light and many reps don't understand the scope and impact this could have on their communities."
House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Lynn said he saw no good reason to have the legislation reconsidered, adding that no new information had come to light that would warrant reconsideration.
"To have a reconsideration you need something new," Lynn said. "What's new? This bill had bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. Nothing has changed. It's a perfectly reasonable bill."
HB 1002 would make it legal for municipalities to charge up to $25 an hour after document searches exceed 10 hours.
Skeptics in the Judiciary Committee said the law would allow unelected bureaucrats to play fast and loose with hours needed to access various documents and could treat individuals differently. They also said it would disenfranchise poorer residents who couldn't afford lengthy searches.
After a vote to reconsider narrowly passed the full house, a motion to table the bill lost soundly.
It was then sent back to the Judiciary Committee on a voice vote.
In 2023 The Rochester Voice won a New Hampshire Press Association Community Service Award after it exposed Rochester's flawed land buy of a Highland Street property for a proposed third city fire station in 2022.
In a mammoth blunder, the purchase and sale agreement offered to the seller by former Town Manager Blaine Cox had no language that held the city harmless if the City Council voted not to make the purchase.
Consequently, when the council did vote the purchase down, Town Attorney Terence O'Rourke called an immediate nonmeeting where councilors were told that if they didn't approve the sale the city would face a lawsuit that one local Realtor said would likely be in the neighborhood of $100,000.
When the council came out of the "nonmeeting" they reversed course and approved the purchase.
Months later Cox reported to the council that he had changed the land-buy policy so such a debacle would never happen again.
Lynn, Potenza and Smart were all unavailable for comment on Thursday.