Better open records

We’re witnessing a resurgence of the legislative conceit that too much regulation unnecessarily cramps the economy and jobs creation.

The broad theory here is that government gets in the way. Getting government out of the way of business via deregulation, however, has no corollary. Government doesn’t try so hard to get out of the way when the public’s right to know is at stake.

Government to business: You want a permit? Sure, we can expedite that.

Government to citizen: You want information? Now wait just a minute. We have rules for this sort of thing.

In Sunday’s Denver Post Perspective section, Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, explained why Senate Bill 40 is needed to update Colorado’s open-records law for the digital age.

Public records laws are important tools for combating misinformation and getting to the truth. But the state has no obligation to provide electronic records in useful formats that easily lend themselves to analysis.

Senate Bill 40 would change that. The bill requires records custodians to provide records in digital forms if kept that way and requested as such. If a government agency keeps records in an Excel spreadsheet, for example, it should deliver them via open records request in the same format — not paper copies or PDFs, which aren’t searchable, sortable or easy to aggregate.

But first SB40 has to get past the same Senate committee that killed a similar version last year. The State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee was supposed to consider the bill on Monday but Republican Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, who chairs the committee, said it wouldn’t be heard as scheduled.

After last year’s bill failed to get past committee, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office agreed to host a working group to address concerns about protecting confidential information and not overburdening records custodians, particularly those in smaller jurisdictions, Roberts wrote in his op-ed.

Thus, SB40 represents a compromise worked out by negotiators representing governments, citizens’ groups and news organizations. It reflects input of records custodians, records requesters and people on both sides of the political aisle.

SB 40 deserves a fair hearing before the full Senate. We call on our own Sen. Scott to announce a new committee hearing date and move this bill forward. Open records shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We have a difficult time understanding why anyone would oppose easier access to government data, which belongs to the public.

Sen. Scott often stresses the importance of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which gives citizens a voice on fiscal policy by requiring voter approval of any tax hike. Easy access to public information should be no less a priority for lawmakers — especially when it so often informs voters on the very issues they’re called upon to decide.


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