Heavily anticipated hearing on state open records bill delayed

Information not from a database that's available to be CORA'd: Gulf Oil workers in Harmarville, Pa., 1956. (Robert Yarnall Richie)

Not a Colorado state employee and not working from a state database. She’s a Gulf Oil worker in Harmarville, Pa., 1956. (Robert Yarnall Richie)

A Senate committee hearing on a much-anticipated state open records bill was postponed Monday, taking the bill sponsor and witnesses lined up to testify by surprise.

Senate Bill 40 was set to be heard in the Republican-controlled State Affairs committee this afternoon. News of the delay was announced on the floor of the Senate this morning just hours before testimony was scheduled to begin. Sources said the reason for the delay was simply to provide committee members with additional time to gather information.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, concerns public access to digital database records. It had been worked over for months in a legislative interim committee. Members of the interim committee took pains to tweak the bill in ways that won over interested parties who have opposed versions of the bill as it was introduced in years past.

Critics voiced concerns around data security, cost and any technological and personnel challenges that might be tied to editing, repackaging or reformatting state data.

“I believe that records made and maintained by governmental entities belong to the public,” said Kefalas, making the case for last year’s version of the bill, SB 16-037. “[Some records custodians] seem to think the records entrusted to them belong to them and not to the people. I’m aware of situations where it appears that custodians have put up roadblocks to access in order to hide information or to make it harder for requesters to exercise due diligence.”

The secretary of state’s office opposed the bill last year but supports this year’s version.

“A lot of people thought [last year’s] bill was totally unworkable, including our office,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said in an email on Monday afternoon. “That’s why we worked so hard over the summer and fall to help craft one that addressed a variety of concerns.”

Supporters of last year’s bill included the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch and the Independence Institute.

Last Thursday, a Republican open records bill, HB 1029, sponsored by Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, was killed in the Democratic-controlled House State Affairs committee. It would have opened up the judicial branch to records requests.

john@coloradostatesman.com

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