Lawmakers try again to add school board transparency

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

Two state lawmakers are trying again to give the public a bit more information about local school board discussions that take place behind closed doors.

A bill that would have required the electronic recording of board-of-education executive sessions, even when board members receive legal advice, died in a Senate committee hearing a month ago. A stripped-down version of that measure, SB 14-182, was introduced late last week by Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster.

S-Hodge

Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton

The new bill mainly adds requirements for keeping executive session minutes. Current law says that minutes must reflect topics of discussion. Under SB 14-182, the minutes also would have to list the amount of time spent discussing each topic. This information would have to be posted on a board’s web site, or published some other way, no more than 10 days after the minutes are approved.

Unlike the bill that was killed, the new proposal would not mandate the recording of portions of executive sessions that currently are not recorded because a board’s attorney believes the discussion involves privileged material. But it would require that any electronic recordings be kept for at least 24 months.

“I couldn’t pass the electronic-recording piece so this is just a milder version to put some kind of transparency in place,” Hodge said Thursday. “By posting this on a website, it gives people an idea – not a good idea, but an idea – of what’s going on. It’s forward movement.”

Hodge and Peniston proposed their original bill because of a perception that some school boards in Colorado have held secret meetings in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.

The measure passed the House over the objection of some legislators who argued that electronic recordings would chill important attorney-client discussions. Hodge couldn’t overcome similar objections in the Senate, even though a judge’s OK would have been necessary to release any recordings to the public.

SB 14-182 is scheduled for a hearing the morning of Wednesday, Apr. 16, in the Senate Education 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.

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