Editorial: Room to improve on access to public information

From The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction): Colorado received an “F” in public access to information by a group that scores state governments on a range of metrics to gauge their overall transparency and accountability.

That seems a bit harsh, but the report exposes problem areas in open records/meetings laws that conscientious lawmakers should be willing to address.

First, some context: The Center for Public Integrity, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit investigative journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., gave failing grades to 11 states. Alaska received the top grade, earning a C. Only two others — California and Connecticut — earned better than a D+, which was Colorado’s overall score.

In 13th place, Colorado is nowhere near the bottom, but states everywhere are doing a poor job of being transparent and accountable, according to the center’s report.

From our own experience in this newsroom, the state’s Open Records Law is fairly robust. It presumes that all government records are open to inspection unless they fall under specific exempt categories. That’s a good starting point, but one of those exemptions is an entire branch of government — a “gaping hole” that undoubtedly contributed to the state’s low marks in public access to information.

Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court adopted new rules for accessing administrative records of the Colorado Judicial Branch. The new rules actually go further than what the court was considering and incorporate several recommendations made by the public and news media. But media trade groups and the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition would like the Judicial Branch records treated the same as the other branches of government and local governments. Some lawmakers have hinted they’ll sponsor legislation in the upcoming session to do that.

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