By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
The ever-changing CORA fees legislation, HB 14-1193, could be amended again in a state Senate committee next week.
Sen. John Kefalas, the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition he will propose an amendment that caps the hourly rate at $25 for researching and compiling public records under the Colorado Open Records Act, with the maximum rate adjusted for inflation every five years.
More significantly, the first two hours of research would be free.
“I think it strengthens the bill that came out of the House and puts in clearer (cost) parameters,” said Kefalas, D-Fort Collins. “Most of the state agencies and some of the local jurisdictions typically don’t charge folks research-and-retrieval fees for the first hour or two. We’re codifying that.”
CORA currently says nothing about how much state and local government agencies can charge for public records that are not criminal-justice records, and fees can vary significantly among jurisdictions. Many state agencies charge $20 to $30 per hour to process records requests (with some not charging for the first hour or two, as Kefalas pointed out), but some local governments have charged more than $100 per hour.
HB 14-1193 is aimed at standardizing CORA fees statewide. The proposed new language is closer to what the House sponsor, Thornton Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar, outlined in January before the bill was introduced. As passed by the House on a 41-24 vote last month, the measure would cap what governments in Colorado can charge for public records at four times the state minimum wage (currently $8 per hour).
The bill also prohibits governments and agencies from charging for public records without first publishing their fee policies on the Internet or in some other form. Kefalas’ amendment keeps that provision intact.
HB 14-1193 is set for a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Monday in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. Kefalas said he expects “a spirited discussion,” which likely will focus on the two hours’ free provision.
Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League, said cities and towns aren’t fighting the version of the bill passed by the House and a $25-per-hour rate probably is not a deal breaker. But they may balk at having to provide two hours’ free labor, especially for out-of-state corporations and law firms that regularly request records.
“Taxpayers subsidize a lot of for-profit data mining,” Wilson said. “That’s not who we talk about when we talk about transparency in government, but it’s part of our world.”
Wilson said he advises municipalities to provide the first hour or two at no cost “so we’re not open to the charge that access to records is just for the rich… But there’s a difference between something being mandatory and something being discretionary.”
A state law mandating no charges for processing records requests would not be unique. Under a law enacted in Nebraska last year, state and local government agencies are allowed to charge for staff time only after the first four hours.
Note: The board of directors of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition voted to support HB 14-1193 in the version as introduced.
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.