It’s The Law: A Quarter A Page

After 38 years of shelling out as much as $1.25 a page for information that belongs to them – a cost for public records that can add up quickly – Coloradans will now pay 25 cents per page max.

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law Senate Bill 45, which drastically reduces the amount that government agencies can charge for public documents. As Colorado Confidential reported in late January, Colorado for many years led the country in the highest cost per page that government agencies could charge – a practice dating back to the days when copiers were somewhat of a rarity.

But now, as bipartisan low-cost proponents have noted during the struggle to make public documents more affordable, many private copy centers, like Kinko’s, charge a fraction of the cost that many government agencies have levied.

“It costs 7 cents (a page) at Kinko’s. Not 75 cents, not 50 cents, not $1.25. Seven cents,” noted Jenny Flanagan, executive director of the government watchdog group Colorado Common Cause, in a comprehensive report that was published last October by the Associated Press.

Adding confusion to past practice, the amounts that government agencies have charged for public information has varied widely.

The city of Colorado Springs, for example, has in recent years charged 50 cents a page, though its police department has billed at $1 a page. Many other entities, including the University of Colorado and the Colorado Secretary of State, have collected the full $1.25 a page. The Colorado Supreme Court has a you-do-it copy machine that charges 25 cents a page.

The bill, sponsored by State Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany and House Rep. Anne McGihon, originally capped the amount of per-copy costs to 10 cents a page. Some government groups – including Colorado’s Association of County Clerks & Recorders, several school districts and other municipal organizations – opposed the reduction, noting that they routinely incur additional costs. However, when testifying in support of the bill, Colorado Press Association Executive Director Ed Otte noted the issue is one of affordability and public access.

After some compromise, the new law sets the maximum at 25 cents per page.

Cara DeGette, a longtime journalist, is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com
 

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