DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s Senate is set to debate Tuesday a bill directing government agencies to deliver requested public records in electronic formats that can be read by computer, making the Colorado Open Records Act more user-friendly to citizens who want to analyze information.
The bill is inspired by an investigation into gender pay equity at Colorado State University by The Coloradoan. CSU refused to provide the newspaper a computerized database of salaries, forcing journalists to create their own after inspecting nearly 5,000 employee salaries the university offered on paper.
Fort Collins Democratic Sen. John Kefalas’ bill sought to allow citizens to more quickly obtain, and more easily analyze, public documents by requiring agencies to provide them in their original, computer-readable electronic formats. Those may be spreadsheets with budget, crime and other statistics.
There are some exceptions, including when a government entity doesn’t have the technical know-how to deliver such a request. A similar bill died last year amid concerns about so-called metadata that could divulge personal information, even once that information is redacted from documents.
This year, a GOP-led Senate committee amended the bill to have CORA apply to the judiciary, which courts have ruled is not covered by the act.
Both the judicial branch and majority House Democrats oppose the amendment, arguing the judiciary has its own rules for public disclosure. That could spell trouble if the bill survives the Senate intact and heads to the House.
In February, House Democrats killed a Republican bill to expand CORA to the judiciary. Democrats, along with Supreme Court Justice Monica Marquez, argued that the Constitution authorizes the judiciary to write its own disclosure rules.
But Rep. Polly Lawrence, the bill’s sponsor, argued that judicial employees should be held to the same accountability standards as lawmakers and the governor and that the Constitution allows lawmakers to act.
The issue has come up before: Some lawmakers have criticized the public’s inability to know how many tax dollars are spent by public defenders, for example – including Aurora theater shooter James Holmes’ defense.
Lawrence’s bill was supported by the secretary of state’s office, which also led a yearlong process to help fashion Kefalas’ electronic records bill.
More than 15 states and the federal government have made it easier for the public to obtain computerized data.
Some Colorado jurisdictions and agencies already do so. But they’re not required to, meaning records requesters must frequently settle for paper records that are difficult to sort through and, under state law, cost 25 cents per page to copy, plus possible labor costs.
– By JAMES ANDERSON, AP Writer
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