Electronic records bill gets Colorado House hearing

Author: James Anderson - April 24, 2017 - Updated: April 24, 2017

State Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, takes notes, February 24, 2016, during a committee hearing on an open records bill he co-sponsored. David Zalubowski, file AP Photo
State Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, takes notes, February 24, 2016, during a committee hearing on an open records bill he is co-sponsoring with state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver. (Photo by David Zalubowski/AP)

A bill to modernize Colorado’s Open Records Act gets its first hearing in the Democrat-led House Monday, with Democrats pushing for a measure that presumes the public is entitled to access government records in ways that can be analyzed by computer.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Pabon and Sen. John Kefalas, would require government entities to provide public records in computer-readable formats such as spreadsheets that are more user-friendly to citizens. That’s not always the case now with paper records on budget items or crime statistics that are difficult to sort through.

The House Finance Committee considers testimony Monday.

The Republican-controlled Senate added an amendment that Democrats say is tangential to the bill’s purpose. The amendment calls for the judicial branch to be subject to the records act — even though Colorado courts have ruled the judiciary isn’t covered by the act. They have their own public records rules.

Backers of the electronic records bill say the amendment won’t pass muster with Democrats who killed a Republican bill on the judiciary issue earlier this session. They say it also could add costs to taxpayers if the judiciary has to change its disclosure rules.

Republicans long have complained about judicial secrecy. They cite the secret costs to taxpayers to prosecute and defend Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in a 2012 attack at a suburban Denver movie theater.

More than 15 states and the federal government allow citizens to obtain computerized data.

Some Colorado jurisdictions and agencies already do so.

The bill allows some exceptions, such as when a government agency doesn’t have the technical know-how to comply with a request.

It’s inspired by an investigation into gender pay equity at Colorado State University by The Coloradoan newspaper. CSU refused to provide a computerized database of salaries, forcing journalists to create their own after inspecting nearly 5,000 employee salaries the university offered on paper.

Other state-funded educational institutions such as the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines have sought guarantees that the bill wouldn’t trigger the accidental release of confidential data such as student Social Security numbers.

The secretary of state’s office, which has led a working group to fashion the bill, has insisted that confidential data can be kept that way.

James Anderson

James Anderson

James Anderson is a Colorado Statehouse Reporter for The Associated Press.