Dig­i­tal records bill gets pre­lim­i­nary OK

But amend­ments, such as in­clud­ing the ju­di­ciary, cloud the mea­sure’s path.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Brian Ea­son

The Colorado Se­nate on Tues­day gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to a wide-rang­ing open records bill that would pro­vide elec­tronic ac­cess to many pub­lic records, re­strict ac­cess to oth­ers and re­quire the ju­di­ciary to com­ply with the same trans­parency rules as other gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

As in­tro­duced, Se­nate Bill 40 es­sen­tially would have re­quired that if a pub­lic record is kept in a dig­i­tal for­mat, a cit­i­zen can re­quest it in a sim­i­lar dig­i­tal for­mat, in­stead of on pa­per. But a se­ries of amend­ments at the com­mit­tee level and now on the Se­nate floor have com­bined to dra­mat­i­cally change the scope of the bill.

The most sig­nif­i­cant of these was added at the com­mit­tee level — an amend­ment to clar­ify that the ju­di­cial branch, like all other state agen­cies, is sub­ject to the Colorado Open Records Act. Other amend­ments would carve out new rea­sons the gov­ern­ment can deny records re­quests, most of which con­cern mat­ters of pub­lic safety.

The bill’s spon­sors, state Sen. John Ke­falas, D-Fort Collins, and state Sen. Bob Gard­ner, R-Colorado Springs, said the changes were a nec­es­sary com­pro­mise that sought to strike a bal­ance be­tween the pub­lic’s need for gov­ern­ment trans­parency, and con­cerns about pub­lic safety and pri­vacy.

“Some very im­por­tant Amer­i­can val­ues are in con­flict,” Gard­ner said. “On the one side is gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency. But in a com­pet­ing way there are the is­sues and con­cerns that have to do with in­di­vid­ual pri­vacy and se­cu­rity.”

The bill was ap­proved on sec­ond read­ing Tues­day by a voice vote and would still need to pass third read­ing in the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate be­fore mov­ing to the House.

Once it’s there, it’s not clear if the coali­tion that has sup­ported it thus far will stay to­gether — or what the bill will look like it if makes it to the floor.

Democrats con­trol the House and for years have op­posed ef­forts to bring the ju­di­cial branch un­der CORA.

Open records ad­vo­cates, mean­while, sup­port that pro­vi­sion but have pushed back against at­tempts to use the dig­i­tal records bill to add new ex­emp­tions to the open records law.

One change adopted Tues­day would ex­empt cer­tain in­fra­struc­ture and util­ity plans from pub­lic dis­clo­sure, cit­ing ter­ror­ism con­cerns.

Ke­falas urged a no vote on the amend­ment, in­tro­duced by Sen. Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, but was out-voted.

“The in­tent of this bill was to up­date how dig­i­tal records — data files — are pro­vided to the pub­lic, to the press, to other re­questers,” Ke­falas said.

“The in­tent of this bill was not to change the pro­vi­sions of CORA.”

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