Bill lets county clerks delay CORA responses up to 20 working days around elections — except for journalists’ requests

Update: A House amendment adopted Sunday, May 5, limits the lengthened CORA deadlines to requests for “election-related” records. The Senate repassed SB 24-210 on a 28-6 vote on Monday, May 6, sending it to Gov. Jared Polis.

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

A bill advanced by state senators Thursday would give county clerks up to 20 working days to comply with Colorado Open Records Act requests during election seasons, except for requests made by journalists.

Senate Bill 24-210, which makes multiple election-related law changes, lengthens the required response time for clerks during a period that starts 60 days before an election and ends when a clerk certifies the official abstract of votes cast.

In that period, clerks “may extend the period for production of records” up to 10 extra working days beyond the seven-working-day extension now permitted when “extenuating circumstances” apply. That’s in addition to CORA’s initial three-working-day response time.

Colorado Capitol

“The purpose of the language in the bill is to give county clerks a little bit more time because they are under an immense amount of pressure, I think in general these days, but especially in the last weeks during an election,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, prime sponsor of SB 24-210.

The Colorado County Clerks Association asked for the extended deadline.

Carly Koppes, Weld County’s clerk and recorder, told members of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that a large Colorado county received a CORA request “right in the middle of an election for the previous election. And it was asking to actually get hands on those previous election ballots.”

“That’s just really not something we can do when we have a live election going and we have live ballots for that election,” she added. “If we were to try and have to accommodate that, that runs a risk of cross contaminating those ballots and causing some issues.”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition opposes the CORA deadline extension in SB 24-210, especially when exorbitant fees already can be a significant barrier to obtaining public records in Colorado. Because of an inflation factor built into CORA since 2014, state and local government entities starting July 1 will be allowed to charge an hourly rate to process requests that likely exceeds $40 after providing the first hour at no charge, up from the current maximum rate of $33.58.

We noted in committee testimony that county clerks often are the custodians of a host of public records in addition to election records. For example, Clear Creek County’s CORA policy says the clerk and recorder is the official custodian of all records maintained by all divisions, departments, commissions and agencies reporting to the county commission.

At the request of the Colorado Press Association, the committee amended SB 24-210 to exempt news media and individual journalists — as defined in Colorado’s reporter’s shield law — from the extended deadlines.

A separate bill, House Bill 24-1296, would give all records custodians five working days, rather than CORA’s current deadline of three working days, to comply with records requests, and an additional 10 working days, rather than seven, if extenuating circumstances apply. The current deadlines would remain in place for requests made by the news media, as defined in the reporter’s shield law.

SB 24-210 passed the committee on a 3-1 vote and now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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