By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
Rep. Joe Salazar’s proposed legislation to regulate how much governments can charge for public records has been introduced in the Colorado House as HB 14-1193.
We told you in early January about the Thornton Democrat’s general idea for standardizing fees to research and compile records requested by the public. Such fees can vary widely from government to government around the state, and the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) is silent on the matter.
The actual bill differs somewhat from the proposal Salazar outlined a month ago. It no longer features a two-tiered payment system that would require small, specific requests to be filled at no charge and base the hourly fee for larger requests on a multiple of the minimum wage.
Instead, HB 14-1193 says that any fee charged for the research and retrieval of public records “must be nominal in comparison to the time the custodian spends responding to the volume of requests.” It could not be more than three times the state minimum wage (currently $8 per hour).
To impose any charges, records custodians would have to publish or post online a written policy on research-and-retrieval fees.
An hourly rate of $24 for 2014 would be in line with how the Colorado Court of Appeals defined a “reasonable” fee in a decision last August. The court upheld a $25-per-hour tab (which totaled $14,305) for emails that some Arapahoe County property owners wanted from a special district. The appellate court also approved the district’s requirement that a deposit be paid, as well as a $25-per-hour fee for the district’s lawyers to identify and separate privileged documents that had to be redacted or withheld.
By stating that fees must be “nominal,” the bill would put into state statutes a standard established by the Court of Appeals in 2003, with “nominal” defined as “trifling, especially as compared to what would be expected.”
HB 14-1193, which is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins, will be scheduled for a hearing in the House Local Government Committee.
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.