By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
A bill to stop the required publication of certain county financial information in newspapers, similar to a measure vetoed last year by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, died quickly Tuesday in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, said she didn’t see how House Bill 19-1057 addressed concerns raised in Hickenlooper’s veto message about “reducing transparency” in rural communities that still lack broadband. Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Aurora, talked about how passage of the bill might impact people like his 90-year-old mother.
“The platform that you will be putting this information on, my mother refers to it as ‘the computer,’ Sullivan said. “Until everybody has access to ‘the computer,’ that information won’t be out there to her.”
HB 19-1057, defeated on a 7-3 vote, would have allowed counties to publish expenditure and salary reports on their websites instead of publishing the information in newspapers. Only links to the reports would have had to be in newspapers.
Similar bills have come up in the legislature over the past several years at the request of Colorado Counties Inc. Rep. Rod Pelton, the Cheyenne Wells Republican who introduced this year’s legislation, said it’s a “fairness issue” for counties because the state does not require the publication of similar financial information in newspapers for cities and other types of governmental entities.
He also called it “an unfair use of taxpayer dollars to help prop up one industry.”
“We just don’t think it’s appropriate that we have to pay for it when times are tougher now on the counties and their budgets,” added Bill Clayton of Colorado Counties. “It may seem like a miniscule amount of money, but it still is money that otherwise could be spent on services.”
Jill Farschman, CEO of the Colorado Press Association, testified against the bill and pushed back against Pelton’s contention that county public notices only serve to “prop up” the newspaper industry.
“I’d be lying if I said that people didn’t value revenue at these smaller operations,” she said. “But that is not the main driver here. The main driver is to ensure that there is transparency and accountability.”
Requiring counties to only publish financial information on websites “disenfranchises anybody who doesn’t have that connectivity, anybody who isn’t comfortable being online,” Farschman added. To ensure transparency, she said, information should be published on multiple platforms, if possible.
Farschman noted that a bill passed in 2014 established a public notices website, a centralized repository for public notices statewide, that is paid for by newspapers, not governments.
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.