Legislation affecting public records and our access to them typically gets eclipsed by the bigger-ticket bills involving transportation, schools and the like. Understandable; the debate over government transparency is seldom sexy.
Yet, it’s not just us newsfolk who benefit from efforts to open up government, and it’s not just us who lose out when government slams the door on our right to know. In a myriad of ways, every voter, every taxpayer, every member of society is affected.
Clear enough? OK, now that we’ve made that heartfelt if ritual appeal, we’ll step off the soapbox and yield it to that diehard defender of public access to government, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition — which has issued it’s take on transparency issues in the legislative session that ended last week.
At the top of the list was Senate Bill 40, which actually did get some hang time and media coverage in the legislature for a few reasons, as we previously reported here and here as well as at other points in its legislative journey. After some brief controversy over a political tangent involving the legislation, it passed the legislature and now awaits Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature.
The Coalition elaborates on the merits of the bill — which it calls “a long-overdue update of the Colorado Open Records Act,” aka CORA — providing practical details about its use by the public:
The new CORA provisions, assuming the governor OKs them, will clarify the public’s right to obtain digital public records in useful file formats that can be searched or sorted.
When you request public records kept in a “sortable” format, you’ll be entitled to the records in a format – like a comma-separated-values (CSV) file – that can easily be imported into a spreadsheet. CORA won’t allow a records custodian to give you a PDF or pages printed from that spreadsheet.
For “searchable” records such as emails, you should expect to get the records in a searchable format instead of an image-only PDF.
The coalition’s overview covers a range of other public-records and open-government legislation considered in the 2017 session, including a bill already signed by the governor to mediate disputes over access to public records; as well as bills on judicial branch records, juvenile crime records and more. Some of the measures made it through the process; some didn’t.
Read the coalition’s full review; here’s the link again. Now that the blockbuster bills that grabbed headlines throughout the session are history, you might find it worth your while to read up on all the obscure legislation that could make it easier for you to keep an eye on public officials and agencies — especially when we in the news media aren’t paying attention.