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.