“It’s the public’s right to know!” The phrase has been spouted by reporters and paparazzi alike.
But under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), it really is the public’s right to know, and that’s not to say government transparency has always been easy. Modeled after the federal Freedom of Information Act signed into law under Johnson administration, the Colorado Public Records law was enacted in 1969 and has been fine tuned since that time on a variety of levels.
According to the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, a non-profit organization that works to protect reporters and advocates for greater access to public records, the Colorado Public Records law made the declaration “that all public records shall be open for inspection unless otherwise specifically provided by law.”
In 1977 the law was amended with the Criminal Justice Records Act, which gave law enforcement the power withhold criminal justice information other than records on actions like arrests and detentions, though such files can also be sealed in certain cases.
Before that, the state “Sunshine Law” was enacted in a 1972 referendum, requiring open meetings in the state government. The measure was later extended to local government agencies.
Organizations like the Colorado Press Association (CPA) have also worked to beef up the law in different areas.
The purpose of the CORA is “to ensure that the public has access to all the government records that they’re supposed to be able to see,” says Ed Otte, director of the CPA.
In the previous legislative session, Otte says the CPA worked with Senate Minority leader Andy McElhany (R-Colorado Springs) to reduce the copying fees for public records–when it was reported earlier that Colorado had the highest fees in the country.
In the past decade the CPA has also successfully pushed for disclosure regarding public university foundation donations and the ability to see how federal homeland security funds are spent in the state.
But while the CORA is one handy tool in a journalist’s arsonal, Otte explains that the law doesn’t just apply to news makers.
“In this situation I don’t think you can make a distinction between a resident in a community or the local newspaper or a political party,” Otte says. “If it’s all government records that are supposed to be open to the public, they should be open to everyone.”
Disclosure: Colorado Confidential is a member of the Colorado Press Association.