Colorado Open Records Act update makes public records more accessible

Courtesy of the
Colorado Press Association
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | On June 1, Governor Hickenlooper signed SB17-040 into law, and this new law becomes effective Aug. 9. Thus Colorado takes a meaningful step forward on behalf of the people. By updating the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) in accordance with 21st century information technology, government becomes more transparent and accountable. The bill was introduced on the second day of the 2017 legislative session and passed the Senate unanimously on the final day after a most arduous legislative journey. The success of this legislation is the result of a dedicated team effort, and here’s the rest of the story.
We introduced SB-040, an important bill to make it easier for Coloradans to understand the actions and activities of their government by allowing more effective access to public records, which belong to Coloradans. Before the bill passed, amendments limited its provisions and we passed a bill that was a little more modest but still meaningful.
CORA states that public records, with specific exemptions, that are created or maintained by government custodians must be disclosed. As technology has modernized, most of these records are maintained digitally in various electronic data bases and spreadsheets. When the people get records in searchable and sortable formats, it is easier for them to manipulate and analyze the records to better understand the actions and activities of government. While some custodians release records in these formats, others do not.
Our introduced bill was the result of an eight-month working group convened by the Secretary of State and intended to address how records are provided to the public, not what records are subject to disclosure. However, upon introduction, numerous records custodians attempted to use the bill as a vehicle to withhold various public records from the public.
One contention, even though the plain language of CORA states otherwise, was that “data” is not a record and shouldn’t have to be disclosed. Those custodians wanted to use our bill to restrict access to data. While that specific issue was troubling, it signaled a bigger problem. Government records belong to the people of Colorado and custodians maintain those records for the people. The underlying argument of many custodians was that records belong to them and the public may only access them on terms and conditions set by custodians.
Issues regarding privacy and security were raised, and through extensive discussions and compromise, we addressed those issues to help the bill pass.
Passage of SB-40 is a meaningful step in the right direction for Colorado, but people who care about government transparency and access to government records must be vigilant. You need to let your legislators know that you expect utmost transparency and accountability in response to those who would argue that the legislature should reduce access to public records.
We will work hard with our legislative colleagues to ensure your access to government records and, if proposals are made to limit access, it is only because there is a demonstrated threat to privacy and personal security. Coloradans who value government transparency can request that their legislators abide by this important principle.
Senator John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, Senator Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs and Representative Dan Pabon, D-Denver were the sponsors of SB 40.