As readers of this paper know, we are mindful of the protections guaranteed by state and federal law for transparency in government. Following is a summary of legislation passed by the Colorado General Assembly in 2014, courtesy of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:
CORA research-and-retrieval fees Beginning July 1, governmental entities may charge no more than $30 per hour to fulfill open records requests, with the first hour free. Fee policies must be posted on the Internet or elsewhere.
Challenging Sunshine Law violations Mid-session, a Jefferson County district judge dismissed a citizen's lawsuit against the city of Arvada for violation of a ban on secret ballots. The judge ruled that the citizen was not personally harmed by the votes and therefore did not have standing to sue. The ruling took legislators by surprise and a late-introduced bill sped through the process with no opposition. The bill makes clear that anyone has standing to challenge violations of the Open Meetings Law.
School board executive sessions
In response to a perception that some school boards have held secret meetings, two bills were introduced that would have required electronic recording of all portions of school board executive sessions. Some lawmakers objected, saying that recording executive sessions, particularly those involving attorney-client privilege, would "chill" the conversation. A watered-down bill emerged from the Assembly, requiring that minutes of the meeting reflect a broad description of each topic and the amount of time spent discussing each topic. Any electronic recordings that are made must be kept for at least 90 days. This bill has not yet been signed by the governor.
Transportation transparency SB 14-197 requires more information and opportunities to comment be given to the public in public-private transportation projects. The bill was in response to public outcry over handling of the Boulder Turnpike toll-lane expansion project, where citizens claimed they were kept in the dark about key details until the final planning stages. The governor has not yet signed this bill and has been asked to veto it.
School spending transparency HB 14-1292 requires establishment of a website by July 1, 2017, that includes searchable information about school district spending in “a format that is readable by a layperson.”
Passive surveillance images A bill already signed by the governor addresses "passive surveillance images" from radar cameras, license plate readers and other law enforcement cameras, requiring that most images be purged after three years. After the first year, images would be available only if needed in felony criminal, civil, labor or administrative proceedings.
Remote testimony on state legislation Colorado residents in the far-flung areas of the state will be able to testify before legislative committees from remote sites that will be set up at colleges and universities once this bill is signed by the governor.
Visit http://coloradofoic.org/legislature/ for more on other bills from the 2014 session with the potential to affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.
Beecher Threatt is Co-Publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. She can be reached at email@example.com.