Opponents say school board executive-sessions bill would chill needed attorney-client talks

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

Lawmakers fighting a bill to add requirements for school board executive sessions argued during House debate Monday that the measure would chill important attorney-client discussions.

“It basically deprives these boards of free and open legal advice in a context that helps them avoid problems,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, of a provision in HB 14-1110 that would require electronic recordings be made of all conversations between school board members and their lawyers.

Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, predicted the bill would lead to “fishing expeditions,” with interest groups regularly going to court to seek access to recordings of closed-door school board meetings. “The whole time, the meter’s running and money and resources are being taken away from our kids to pay for lawyers’ fees,” he said.

A preliminary House vote on HB 14-1110 was postponed to give the legislature’s staff time to revise its fiscal analysis of the bill.

The measure would mandate the electronic recording of portions of school board executive sessions that currently are not recorded because a board’s attorney believes the discussion involves privileged material. It also would require that minutes of school board executive sessions list the amount of time spent discussing each topic. Citizens who suspect the process has been misused could ask a judge to review the minutes and recordings.

Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, introduced the bill after hearing complaints that some boards of education in the state might have held secret meetings in violation of Colorado’s Sunshine Law. She said some school boards already record the entirety of their executive sessions, and some states mandate such recordings.

“We are not dismantling the American judicial system with this bill,” Peniston said.

Supporters of HB 14-1110 defeated a proposed amendment by Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, to repeal an existing law that allows school boards to meet privately to discuss collective bargaining strategies.

Other House action

Also on Monday state representatives preliminarily approved HB 14-1112, an anti-identity theft bill that would require county clerks to redact the first five digits of a Social Security number on an electronic copy of a public document, if a person makes a request.

Another bill aimed at protecting senior citizens from identity theft, HB 14-1073, won final House passage on a 58-5 vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration. It would close marriage and civil union license applications that now become public records after 50 years.

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