Our View: The price of public records

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Colorado charges its residents more for access to public records than any other state in the nation. That's no badge of honor; rather, it's shameful and dumb.

Fortunately, state lawmakers can change that by approving Senate Bill 45, which would cap fees charged to get copies of public records at 10 cents per page. The Senate Finance Committee will hear the bill Tuesday.

Current law requires residents to pay up to $1.25 per page for copies of public records. Not all agencies charge such an amount, but many do, as a joint reporting project by the Associated Press and the Colorado Press Association showed last year.

Current law also allows custodians of public records to charge additional fees for the work required to assist with public records requests. This can lead to abuses of the system, wherein custodians can use fees to discourage access to public records. Senate Bill 45 would cap the labor costs custodians can charge for helping with public records at $15 per hour.

State Sen. Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Anne McGihon, D-Denver, are the sponsors of this bill. They are to be commended for their work.

McElhanny said the Associated Press and Colorado Press Association project - which the Steamboat Pilot & Today participated in and published - was the catalyst for the bill. In the project, newspapers around the state asked for basic public records at various agencies and recorded the response they received. In many cases, particularly in Steamboat Springs, the custodians were helpful in releasing the records. In other cases, they laughed. In some cases, custodians demanded to know why the person wanted the records. And in some cases, they set ridiculous fees to get access to the records.

As part of the project, Kevin Darnst of the Fort Collins Coloradoan wrote a story detailing how Colorado's public records fees were the highest in the nation. New Mexico was second at $1 per page, a full 20 percent cheaper than Colorado. Darnst's story showed that states such as Missouri and Texas have adopted laws that make it easier for the public to get access to public records, including capping costs at 10 cents per page.

The story prompted McElhany's interest in Senate Bill 45. "The whole issue of access to public information and records is huge," McElhany said. "It doesn't work very well in Colorado. It shouldn't be so difficult to get a copy of a pubic record."

There remain some lawmakers who think 10 cents per page is too small a fee. We would remind those lawmakers that paper retails for less than 2 cents per page. Kinko's charges 7 cents per page.

Public servants work for the public, are paid by public tax dollars and are responsible for maintaining public records. Ideally, they would be doing everything within their power to make access to public records as quick, as easy and as inexpensive as possible.

Approving Senate Bill 45 is the least they can do.

Comments

id04sp 7 years, 8 months ago

Many public records are available free, online, to anyone who wants to look them up. Our own Routt County Clerk and Recorder and Tax Assessor websites provide a portal whereby you can do such things as look up the sales history of every lot in your subdivision, open and view all the deeds, dowload them, etc. Documents such as registred copies of Declarations of Covenants and Restrictions, homeowner's association bylaws, corporate charters, etc., are all there.

Routt County is way out in front of most other Colorado counties when it comes to this. The County Commissioners and other officals who have made this possible deserve an immense amount of credit for doing it RIGHT!

There's still a way to go, but court records have been moving to electronic storage for several years. It's time to finish the job and put ALL scanned or electronically filed court records online for public access (not just the "published" opinions of the appellate courts).

Knowledge is power. Want to prove that somebody has a conflict of interest? The evidence is often available right there online in the county records.

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Tigger 7 years, 8 months ago

hey 1.25 isnt bad. Consider the costs of storing, upgrading data and paying personell to manage it all. I agree, most are online or it simply is not public record.

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Tigger 7 years, 8 months ago

And how about the cost of running a classified add in the stinky Steamboat Pilot! I'd say the government has the private sector beat there!!

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flipside 7 years, 8 months ago

1.25 is outrageous. It's PUBLIC. And the "cost" that you reference is already PAID FOR by the public. This is the cost for COPIES of public records. It's absolutely outrageous.

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whyquestion 7 years, 7 months ago

didn't high copy prices work in o c ???? didn't DEFICIT CARGO keep the public from financial info for a few years????

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JQPUBLIC 7 years, 7 months ago

The citizens of OC were definitely priced out of getting public records, check into the price jumps that took place when people started looking too closely at the ex-mayor's financial dealings. As soon as financial info went out to the public proving that the ex-mayor was not being entirely truthful(even though the citizens chose not to believe it) and that a town check had been used to pay for her traffic ticket, the price of public records soared. If the town of OC is no longer protecting their ex-mayor or has nothing else to hide, maybe they will revisit the cost of "public records" and again allow the public reasonable access.

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id04sp 7 years, 6 months ago

So how come only six posts show up (the banner says there are 12)?

What are we hiding?

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inmate2007 7 years, 6 months ago

The pilot staff is hiding Kay S., do you blame them?

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