Sponsor kills school board executive-sessions bill because support in Senate fell short

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

A controversial bill to require the electronic recording of all portions of school board executive sessions was killed in a Senate committee Wednesday at the request of the sponsor.

“I had the votes to get it out of committee today. I do not have the votes on the (Senate) floor, and I won’t have the votes on the floor,” said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. “I think I was one vote shy.”

Sen. Mary Hodge

Sen. Mary Hodge

HB 14-1110 narrowly passed the Colorado House last month, despite fervent opposition from some lawmakers who complained that keeping a recorder going would have a chilling effect on the ability of school boards to candidly discuss certain matters with their attorneys. Hodge said the same concerns about attorney-client privilege ruined the bill’s chances in the Senate.

School board executive sessions currently must be recorded, but state law lets board members turn off the machine when their attorney believes the discussion involves privileged matters. Hodge and the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, hoped to create an electronic record of those discussions so they could be reviewed by a judge if citizens suspected that a closed-door meeting was held improperly. A court order is the only way such recordings were to be released to the public.

The measure was in response to perceived abuses of Colorado’s Sunshine Law by the Douglas County school board and a few others around the state. The measure also would have required boards of education to list the amount of time spent discussing each executive session topic.

Hodge said she is disappointed she had to kill her own bill, but plans to keep working on a compromise proposal that could be introduced later this legislative session or next year.

“I think it’s an important issue,” she said. “I think transparency should always be paramount.”

Hodge didn’t give the Senate Judiciary Committee a chance to consider a proposed amendment floated earlier this month that she said “took it back to the status quo.” That language, which she opposed, would have allowed boards of education to stop the recorder, as they can now, if the topic of an executive session involved real estate transactions, personnel issues, pending litigation or student-related matters.

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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