By John Fosholt
CFOIC Vice President
A bill to improve the management of government records by the Colorado State Archives won approval this week in a House committee.
Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, said HB 16-1368 is an attempt “to deal with the digital revolution that’s happened over the past couple of decades and so move forward to save our documents.”
Access to government emails and other digital records has become increasingly important for journalists and members of the public. In Michigan, for example, year-old emails revealed that the governor’s staff had long known about toxic tap water being supplied to residents of Flint.
In Colorado, records managers at the State Archives said recently they aren’t receiving any email records for storage. State archivists are responsible for storing and maintaining records from 5,000 government offices and agencies around the state, with the vast majority of those records on paper because the State Archives lacks the equipment to store them digitally.
Digital records occasionally submitted on disks or thumb drives often have been written using various proprietary software programs, making them difficult to archive.
HB 16-1368 would create an advisory board from state and local governments to decide how best to handle the incoming data.
“What are we going to keep?” is a big question for the advisory board, State Archivist George Orlowski told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday. He said archival experts estimate that only 2 percent of current government records are worthy of permanent storage.
Orlowski said the State Archives’ role is very different from that of the Colorado Historical Society. “The Archives administers government records, while History Colorado administers cultural and heritage resources,” he said.
Nevertheless, the State Archives has important historical documents related to such things as businesses, marriages and court cases. Orlowski said his staff also is struggling to catalog and store the vast accumulation of audio and video recordings from the legislature and its committees.
HB 16-1368, which passed the committee on a 6-3 vote, would change archiving procedures by removing the governor and attorney general’s roles as arbiters in disputes over record keeping. Orlowski said the various agencies submitting records already check with their own attorneys about such decisions. “We’re not trying so much to eliminate the AG’s office as to streamline the process,” he said.
The bill also would allow the State Archives to charge fees to government agencies for storing some types of records. The office already charges the public for access to records.
“This is a reorganization,” Tyler said of his bill. “We are moving forward to the 21st century.”
John Fosholt is a retired investigative news producer for KUSA-TV in Denver.
Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.