Digital records bill gets preliminary OK
But amendments, such as including the judiciary, cloud the measure’s path.
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.”