Colorado proposal would cut public records costs for media

Mar 17, 2023, 2:01 PM
FILE - The Colorado state Capitol in Denver is pictured, Jan. 9, 2023. Colorado lawmakers may consi...
FILE - The Colorado state Capitol in Denver is pictured, Jan. 9, 2023. Colorado lawmakers may consider a draft bill that would reduce barriers for news media to access public records, including lower fees and shorter waiting periods compared to members of the public. But the draft legislation kicked off controversy on Twitter, with some concerned that the bill’s carveout for the media was unfair. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — As Colorado’s fall neared in 2021, reporter Jesse Paul wanted to peek behind the curtain of state prisons, submitting a request for a swath of documents regarding inmate deaths, injuries and staff violations — public records made available to ensure government transparency.

But then the bill arrived, and Paul, a reporter at The Colorado Sun, shot off a cheeky email to his editors: “You guys cool if I drop $245,000 on this?”

In a concession many journalists know well, Paul gutted his admittedly large request, leaving most of those government documents shrouded from the public’s sight. Those types of financial barriers are partly why Colorado state lawmakers are considering legislation that would give the news media privileges when requesting public records, including lower fees and stricter deadlines for records custodians to produce documents.

But the draft legislation kicked off a hullaballoo on Twitter, with some concerned that favoring news media was unfair, while others found the mere idea of politicians defining who is and who isn’t a journalist unsettling.

Most states do not differentiate between the general public and media organizations, and the Colorado draft bill’s definition of the news media would effectively exclude news startups in their first year of operation — raising their public records costs.

The proposal comes as some states push in the opposite direction. lawmakers across the country are trying to shield the disclosure of personal information for elected officials and public employees.

The Colorado proposal has yet to be introduced, and could change as the final kinks get worked out, said Democratic state Sen. Chris Hansen, the bill’s sponsor. Hansen, in defense of the definition, said burgeoning news groups would still be able to submit requests and the temporary higher cost wouldn’t be a “significant burden.”

Broadly, the proposal is considered a step in the right direction by media groups. It would require stricter retention of government email records, charge news media half the cost billed to the general public — roughly capped at $15.00 for every hour spent producing the records — and ensure certain reports from investigations into sexual harassment by elected officials be publicly available.

To Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and who has helped draft the bill, said the proposal isn’t perfect but will make a dent in the problem. A more robust solution, he said, would be better funding for governments to respond to records requests.

The cost of Paul’s quarter-million-dollar request still probably wouldn’t be addressed by this bill, Roberts noted. Those documents likely fall under a separate category for criminal records, and Roberts is still on a mission to address prohibitive costs.

“There doesn’t seem to be political will to just reduce the cost for everyone,” said Roberts.

Larry Ryckman, editor of The Colorado Sun, said that while he had misgivings about politicians defining what qualifies as news media, he was generally pleased with any expansion of public records access.

“A healthy democracy depends on a free press, that we will ask questions, that we will dig in, and that we will verify facts,” Ryckman said, “and we cannot hold government and government agencies and officials accountable without access to documents.”


Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

United States News

FILE - California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in National City, Calif., on March ...
Associated Press

California lawmakers to vote on possible gas price penalties

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Thursday will vote on whether to allow penalties on oil companies for price gouging at the pump, a first-in-the-country proposal aimed at stopping the kind of spikes last summer that caused some drivers pay up to $8 per gallon as the industry reaped super-sized profits. Gov. Gavin Newsom, […]
1 day ago
A demolished bike path is shown in the South River Forest near the site of a planned police trainin...
Associated Press

Muddy clothes? ‘Cop City’ activists question police evidence

ATLANTA (AP) — When police stormed an Atlanta-area music festival two days after a rainstorm, they were looking for suspects wearing muddy clothing. Authorities moved in on the South River Music Festival on the evening of March 5, over an hour after more than 150 masked activists attacked a construction site about three-quarters of a […]
1 day ago
Gwyneth Paltrow sits in court, Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. Paltrow is accused of...
Associated Press

Gwyneth Paltrow ski collision trial set for family testimony

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The two daughters of a retired optometrist suing Gwyneth Paltrow are expected to testify on Thursday about their lasting effects of their father and Paltrow’s 2016 ski collision as the trial takes on an increasingly personal note on the third day of proceedings. Attorneys are expected to call Polly Grasham […]
1 day ago
Holocaust survivor Tova Friedman, 85, prepares to record a TikTok video with her grandson, 17-year-...
Associated Press

Holocaust survivor shares on TikTok to educate young people

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) — Holocaust survivor Tova Friedman is a TikTok star at age 85, thanks to her 17-year-old grandson. In the family living room in Morristown, New Jersey, he records short videos of his grandmother reminiscing about life in 1944 and 1945 when she was a 6-year-old child at the Auschwitz death camp in […]
1 day ago
In this frame grab from livestreamed video provided by Relativity Space, Terran 1 sits on a launch ...
Associated Press

Launch debut of 3D-printed rocket ends in failure, no orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A rocket made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts made its launch debut Wednesday night, lifting off amid fanfare but failing three minutes into flight — far short of orbit. There was nothing aboard Relativity Space’s test flight except for the company’s first metal 3D print made six years ago. The […]
1 day ago
FILE - Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg participates in a news conference in New York, Tuesd...
Associated Press

Manhattan DA postpones Trump grand jury session, AP sources say

Manhattan prosecutors have postponed a scheduled grand jury session in the investigation into Donald Trump.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
Colorado proposal would cut public records costs for media