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Open records bill would be ‘step backward,’ transparency group says

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Derek Draplin

(The Center Square) – A new bill that would change Colorado’s open records law would be a “step backward,” a transparency advocacy group in the state says.

House Bill 24-1296, introduced last week in the House of Representatives with bipartisan sponsorship, aims “to lessen the burdens of responding to records requests for custodians” under the Colorado Open Records Act.

“It is sad that at a time when we are being bombarded with misinformation and disinformation, lawmakers are seeking to curtail the public’s right to receive accurate information, through public records, on a timely basis and without having to borrow funds to obtain them,” Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition President Steve Zansberg Said.

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The bill would give records custodians up to two days to determine any costs or fees associated with a request and whether any “extenuating circumstances exist” to extend the response period. The legislation also includes a stipulation that allows a custodian to delay open records requests responses by a “vexatious requester,” but exempts members of the mass media. 

“‘Vexatious requester’ means a person or entity that submits a request for public records and that, by the person’s or entity’s conduct, demonstrates an intent to annoy or harass a custodian, [or] the entity for which the custodian works…” the bill states.

Denial of requests that include “any record containing information that, if disclosed, would invade another individual’s personal privacy” would also be allowed.

Zansberg, the transparency group president, is a lawyer specializing in First Amendment cases.

“Such steps backward should be vigorously opposed by all who believe in transparency and accountability,” he said in a post about the bill.

According to the coalition, the personal privacy exemption “could overturn decades of judicial precedent in Colorado regarding the availability of public employees’ personnel files, including disciplinary records that could show misconduct.”

The Center Square was unsuccessful in a request for comment from one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins.

The House State, Civic, Military, & Veterans Affairs Committee has a hearing on the proposal March 4.