NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · COLORADO · Freedom of Information · April 24, 2007
Law decreases costs of public records by 80 percent
April 24, 2007 · When Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 45 into law Thursday, obtaining copies of public records became 80 percent less expensive for the citizens of Colorado.
The bill dropped the maximum amount that public bodies can charge for copies of public records a full dollar per page, from $1.25 per page to 25 cents.
Ed Otte, president of the Colorado Press Association, said the bill originally proposed decreasing costs to 10 cents per page but was met with strong opposition from county clerks.
According to Otte, Colorado Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany (R-Colorado Springs) decided to introduce the bill after a survey conducted by the press association and the Denver bureau of The Associated Press showed public opposition to the high copy costs. The survey was conducted in the form of a public records audit, in which 23 newspapers recruited residents to make public records requests to counter potential preferential treatment for journalists.
After the audit results were published in Colorado newspapers in October, the issue was brought to McElhany’s attention and he soon found a Democrat to cosponsor the bill, Otte said.
In March, the state Senate passed the bill unanimously with one senator excused, and the House approved the bill 62-3.
“The law is a significant change, but it was a compromise,” Otte said. “It will make records more accessible to the public and encourage people to go to local agencies and ask for copies. Before, the cost may have been intimidating and somewhat of a deterrent.”
Many states’ public records laws say copying fees must be “reasonable,” like Maine’s law, or limit the fees to the actual costs of copying, like Kentucky’s law.
Of the states that specify a maximum cost, Colorado’s old $1.25-per-page fee was the most expensive, according to the Open Government Guide produced by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Although many groups view the fee decrease as a victory for the media, Otte thinks residents are the main beneficiaries.
“News organizations could already afford to pay the copy costs,” Otte said. “This will provide more of a benefit to the public.”
(S.B. 45) — MA