By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
Ending what state Sen. John Kefalas called “the most incredible journey,” Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday signed a bill that modernizes the Colorado Open Records Act by clarifying the public’s right to copies of digital public records.
“This is one of those bills that was hotly debated throughout the session and really did require some gentle caresses and firm molding,” Hickenlooper said. “But when you see some very conservative components of our community and some very liberal components of our community coming together, generally you know that there’s good things close at hand.”
The road to Senate Bill 17-040 started with a 2015 CORA request made by the Fort Collins Coloradoan for Colorado State University’s database of faculty salaries. CSU provided the newspaper with 145 printed pages from the database, rather than a digital, easy-to-analyze copy, claiming it had fulfilled its obligations under the open-records law.
Kefalas got involved after reading a column on the denial written by Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. After the senator’s initial CORA modernization effort failed in 2016, the Secretary of State’s office convened a working group – which included the CFOIC – to craft a new proposal that balanced the public’s right to know with concerns raised by government entities.
Still, passage of SB 17-040 came down to the final day of the 2017 legislative session.
“I thought it was a great way to cross the finish line and that is for this bill to pass on the last day of the legislative session 35-0 in the state Senate,” said Kefalas, a Fort Collins Democrat.
Kefalas called it “an amazing team effort.” Other key players included the Colorado Press Association, Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch, the Independence Institute, Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs and various government entities and groups. Rep. Dan Pabon, the Denver Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House, also credited Democratic Reps. Mike Weissman of Aurora and Chris Kennedy of Lakewood.
“Ultimately transparency and accountability in our government is not a Democratic value or a Republican value, it’s a Colorado value,” Pabon said. “And I think Senate Bill 40 crystallizes that.”
Here are seven things to know about how CORA is changing.
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.