DENVER - A bill headed to Governor John Hickenlooper's desk will limit the fees for Colorado citizens seeking public records. House Bill 1193 limits the amount of money agencies can charge for research time to $30 per hour -- and the first hour is free.
A year-long series of reports concerning government transparency in Colorado by the CALL7 Investigators found many agencies charging exorbitant fees -- which can deter citizens, including journalists, from obtaining the records.
"Currently there is no standardization, and we have multiple public entities charging, in many cases, outrageous amounts of money for people to able to access public records," said State Representative Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton, who authored the bill.
Salazar was motivated by his own experiences -- and what he saw on 7NEWS.
"As has been reported by your news agency: is that some of these entities, they charge outrageous amounts of money," Salazar told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia. "The Town of Salida has been mentioned quite a bit charging anywhere between $170 to $190 an hour, depending on who you speak with. I have actually seen their CORA policy which says $170 an hour, which is just ridiculous.“
Salazar said the new law will make a big difference.
"This will stop that kind of abuse. It will also stop public entities from trying to make a profit off people trying to access public records," he said.
Salazar said the CALL7 Investigators' hour-long special report in 2013 revealed to him how public entities use the Colorado Open Records Act and the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act to deny citizens access to records.
"Did you learn anything from it?" asked Ferrugia.
"I learned we had a lot of work to do," said Salazar. "Entering the legislature it was somewhat of a mission, but after seeing the story, it has become even more of a mission ... To ensure the public has access to its own records."
Salazar says the bill had support from both Republicans and Democrats. He is planning to introduce additional open records legislation next session.