By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
The $25 billion budget bill that passed the Colorado Senate on Thursday includes a relatively miniscule appropriation for a new lawyer in the Attorney General’s office to help with a growing number of requests for public records.
Not only are requests under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) more plentiful than they used to be, they are broader and more complex, the Department of Law told the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee when the agency presented its budget proposal last fall.
“It appears that more requests are ‘fishing’ for information rather (than) seeking detail on a specific issue,” says a budget brief prepared by the JBC staff.
Added Carolyn Tyler, the AG’s communications director: “CORA has become a constant legal challenge with requests becoming increasingly broad, multi-faceted, and litigious.”
For example, some requesters have asked for “all communications with federal agencies” rather than communications with a specific federal agency. Another recent request “could require detailed physical handling of approximately 5,500 documents (some of which are 200 pages in length) to review and redact necessary information,” according to the budget brief. The JBC document also cites “the increasing use of CORA requests as a political and/or litigation tool.”
The AG-run law department received 95 CORA requests through mid-October of 2014, up from 73 in all of 2012. Anecdotally, other state agencies also are getting more requests, the department reported, although there is no hard data available.
In addition to handling its own CORA matters, the AG’s office advises other state departments on public records and Open Meetings Law issues. The new staff attorney also is needed, the office said, to help improve the consistency of responses to CORA requests throughout state government and to help protect state agencies from “legal exposure and related costs.”
SB 15-234, the appropriations bill, includes $87,635 from the General Fund for the new position. The budget bill now goes to the House for consideration.
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.