Hickenlooper signs bill to let anyone challenge violations of Colorado’s Sunshine Law

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

A little more than two months after a Jefferson County judge dismissed a citizen’s lawsuit against Arvada for using secret ballots to replace a city council member, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation Friday to ensure that anyone can legally challenge violations of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

HB 14-1390 was introduced late in the 2014 legislative session in response to a Mar. 30 ruling from District Judge Margie Enquist that Arvada resident Russell Weisfield did not have legal standing to sue the city.

Weisfeld’s suit alleged that Arvada violated a two-year-old provision of the Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Law, that generally prohibits the state or any local public body from voting in secret to adopt “any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, or regulation” or to take “formal action.”

The  judge said council members “may have violated the secret ballot provision” when they marked unsigned sheets of paper four times Jan. 10 to eliminate candidates for a vacant council seat. But she ruled against Weisfield because he couldn’t prove he had been personally harmed by the hidden votes.

Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the ruling threatened to make “a dead letter” of the Sunshine Law. But the bill, which explicitly grants legal standing to anyone, passed the General Assembly with no opposition. One of it its sponsors was Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a Democrat whose appointment to the legislature last fall created the Arvada council vacancy.

Zenzinger

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, (left) and Katie Fleming Dahl, associate director of Colorado Common Cause, during testimony on HB 14-1390

Zansberg, as attorney for the Colorado Press Association and CFOIC president, worked with the Office of Legislative Legal Services to craft HB 14-1390. The press association, a CFOIC member organization, led the lobbying effort.

On Thursday, Hickenlooper promised to sign the bill while speaking at a CFOIC luncheon honoring Denver Post Chairman William Dean Singleton.

“Someone asked me whether I was going to sign this thing and I didn’t say this but I thought, ‘I’m not going to sign this and suffer the wrath of Dean Singleton for how many years?’” Hickenlooper said. “So I can tell you that by the time the sun falls (Friday), this bill will be safely signed.”

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.

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