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CO sees Legislation to Move Public Records into Digital Age

A new bill making its way through the Colorado Legislature could make pouring through large quantities of taxpayer-funded public data easier. (Pixabay)
A new bill making its way through the Colorado Legislature could make pouring through large quantities of taxpayer-funded public data easier. (Pixabay)
February 6, 2017

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are set to hear a bill Monday that would bring local and state governments one step closer to the levels of transparency sought by watchdog groups.

Senate Bill 40 would update the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, making it possible to access digital copies of documents kept by any taxpayer-funded agency. Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the move would finally bring CORA into the 21st century.

"It's many, many years into the digital age,” Roberts said. "A lot of information that is very important to know about how taxpayer dollars are spent, how government decisions are made, everything is really created and kept electronically these days."

Under the current rules, agencies are only required to release hard copy print-outs. Roberts said databases and other records are easier to interpret when readers can use search functions and other tools to parse out large quantities of information.

The measure would also limit agency liability by repealing criminal misdemeanor penalties for willful and knowing violations of CORA.

A similar measure - also pushed by Senator John Kefalas of Larimer County - failed to pass in 2016. The defeat prompted Colorado's Secretary of State's Office to create a working group to iron out sticking points, including concerns about the release of confidential information - such as Social Security numbers - embedded in databases.

Roberts said this year's bill stands a better chance of passing.

"There should be a way to redact that and release the public portions in a format that allows the public, or a journalist, to analyze the information and look at how things are working - or not working, in some cases,” he said.

Roberts said his group's ultimate goal, shared by many in the government, is to make all public records available as open data online. He said that would save custodians a lot of headaches producing documents and spreadsheets, and watchdog groups wouldn't always have to make formal requests.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO