Initial OK for Colorado electronic records bill in hearing

DENVER — A House committee late Monday approved a bill to modernize Colorado’s Open Records Act, with majority 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 upon request 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 voted 7-6 along party lines to send the measure to the chamber’s Appropriations Committee after stripping a provision, introduced by the GOP-led Senate, to incorporate the judiciary under the records act.

Monday’s testimony pitted several government agencies against open records advocates including Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Williams, whose office has led an effort to reach a compromise on the electronic records bill, insisted that the measure “does not change what people can obtain. It simply changes how they get it.”

Opponents included representatives of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which oversees Medicaid; the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, which operates Denver Health Medical Center; and the Department of Public Health and Environment.

They cited the potential for inadvertently releasing personal or medical information in releasing databases; the litigation risk that would pose; and a need in some cases to hire skilled information technology specialists to handle requests.

Supporters insisted protections provided by the Open Records Act and other statutes would prevent sensitive information disclosures. Under the bill, denials of electronic data can be made for other reasons, including a lack of technical know-how or the risk of disclosing copyright or proprietary information.

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

Some Colorado jurisdictions and agencies already do so.

The bill is 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 sought guarantees that the bill wouldn’t trigger the accidental release of confidential data such as student Social Security numbers.

The Republican-controlled Senate previously added an amendment that Democrats said was tangential to the bill’s purpose. The amendment called 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.

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.


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