Three bills making their way through the Legislature deserve greater public scrutiny because they affect the public's access to information.
Senate Bill 131 would open to greater public inspection security records that were exempted from disclosure in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. House Bill 1041 would make public financial records of nonprofits that fund state colleges and universities. Both bills should be approved.
Senate Bill 69 would prevent counties from having to publish the names of employees along with salary information. It should be defeated.
A summary of the bills:
n Senate Bill 131 is in response to a bill approved in 2003 that sought to prevent terrorists from obtaining the state's security secrets. The 2003 bill went too far. Essentially, it made secret any document relating to the state's homeland security program.
State Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 131. It would override the provisions of the 2003 bill. Grossman's bill would make homeland security documents subject to the open records act unless there was a clearly demonstrated security threat to making the documents public.
Grossman's bill is a sensible alternative to lawmakers' over-reaction in 2003. Millions of taxpayer dollars have gone to the state's homeland security program. Taxpayers deserve to know how those funds are being spent and how the programs are being managed. Senate Bill 131 -- which will be heard today in the Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee -- should be approved.
n House Bill 1041 was approved overwhelmingly by the House and has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Under the bill, donations to state universities or colleges by foundations or other nonprofits would be subject to the open records act. Identifying information about donors to the foundations would remain private.
The bill is in response to the CU Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for the university. A grand jury report obtained by Denver media is critical of the foundation's role in a 2004 investigation into possible recruiting violations by the football team. The report suggests the foundation suffered from a lack of oversight and may have funneled money inappropriately to the football team. The foundation also was criticized for not complying with grand jury requests for information.
If House Bill 1041 were in place, there would be no secrecy surrounding how the university used CU Foundation funds. Shedding light on foundation records will reduce the likelihood that foundation funds, which ultimately go to public use, will be subjected to waste, fraud or abuse.
n Senate Bill 69 is sponsored by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, who sponsored similar legislation last year in the House as a state representative. That bill was defeated, and this one should be, as well.
Twice each year, counties are required to publish legal notices stating employee names, titles and salary information. Under Tochtrop's bill, names would not have to be published. Tochtrop said the requirement is an invasion of county employees' privacy. Supporters of the bill argue that school districts and municipalities don't have to meet such a requirement.
We would argue that school districts and cities should have to publish such lists. Publishing names helps prevent gender discrimination in government salaries. It also prevents governments from hiding salaries under different job titles. If government employees want to keep their salary information secret, then they shouldn't work in the public sector.
Open government is always the best government. Senate Bill 131 and House Bill 1041 are in the spirit of that philosophy and should be approved. By contrast, Senate Bill 69 unnecessarily seeks to make public information less accessible and should be defeated.