PROMO Politician - Colorado Governor Jared Polis

Colorado Polis gets bill to change open meetings law passed in 1972

Colorado Governor Jared Polis
Joe Mueller

(The Center Square) – Members of Colorado’s General Assembly would be allowed to discuss legislative matters via email and text messaging without disclosure, which is currently required by statute, if a new bill becomes law.

Under Senate Bill 24-157, lawmakers would be allowed to meet and discuss legislation via email and text messages and not be legally required under the Colorado Open Meetings Law to disclose information exchanged. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House on Monday in a 39-22 vote, sending it to Governor Jared Polis.

Colorado’s Open Meetings Law, or Sunshine Law, passed by voters in 1972, states: “It is declared to be a matter of statewide concern and the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret.”

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However, SB24-157 makes “written communication, electronic or otherwise, exchanged between members of the general assembly are not subject to COML but any records of the communications are subject to disclosure to the extent required by the ‘Colorado Open Records Act.’” The bill is sponsored by Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Representative Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood.

Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, stated in a blog post his organization testified during a committee hearing that the bill would “encourage state lawmakers to formulate and debate public business in an unlimited way via email, text message and ephemeral messaging apps such as Signal without the public’s knowledge and scrutiny.”

McCluskie stated currently technology makes the law outdated and hampers the ability of legislators to freely discuss matters.

“We exist now in a digital age, where cellphones, email communication, written communication happens at a lightning pace and is something that a 1972 law could never contemplate or imagine,” McCluskie was quoted as saying in Roberts’ post. “The democratic process thrives when we make connections, invest in understanding each other, listen to one another, connect and learn.”

The General Assembly twice faced lawsuits last year over alleged open meetings violations. House Republicans criticized the process used to pass the bill.

“On a bill that deals with transparency, it would be helpful if they would consider us a partner – even as stakeholders – to have been engaged in a bill about transparency and an issue that affects all of us in this chamber,” House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs, said during debate before voting against the bill.

Colorado state law defines a meeting as any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business. The meeting can take place in person, by telephone, electronically or by any other means of communication.

“If elected officials exchange electronic mail to discuss pending legislation or other public business among themselves, the electronic mail is subject to the” law, according to the statute.

However, electronic communication between elected officials on non-legislative matters or public business isn’t considered a “meeting.”