Colorado’s closely watched digital database open records bill advances

State Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, takes notes, February 24, 2016, during a committee hearing on an open records bill he co-sponsored. David Zalubowski, file AP Photo

State Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, February 24, 2016. David Zalubowski, file AP Photo.

A long-coming update to the Colorado Open Records Act that aims to make government digital datasets more readily accessible to and manageable for the public advanced with bipartisan support in the State Senate Tuesday night.

Senate Bill 40, sponsored by Fort Collins Democrat John Kefalas, is the latest version of a proposal that has been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate.

Kefalas was at pains during floor debate to explain the “interesting journey” the bill has taken just over the last nine months — through working groups and committee hearings and legislative layovers. The bill has been the center of wide discussion inside and outside the Capitol on the need to safeguard state infrastructure data against potential terrorist snooping; on whether to use the bill to explicitly include the judicial branch in Open Records Act provisions; and on how best to protect the personal data of individual Coloradans, including lawmakers, in an age when digital matter wants to flow in a torrent in every direction.

Kefalas reminded lawmakers at least twice during the debate that his bill never aimed to rework the Colorado Open Records Act, that the focus has always been on writing careful rules to govern the process by which “structured data” collected by the government could be made available to members of the public, including journalists and others, in formats that can be transferred digitally and that are easy to read and search.

The bill will now very likely pass the Republican-controlled Senate and then head to the Democratic-controlled House, where Kefalas will hand off the bill to Denver Democrat Dan Pabon to shepherd through committees and debate.

The House will take up continuing thorny issues about how much latitude government offices will enjoy when it comes to protecting information, including metadata, by redacting it.

The bill concerns two central American impulses, argued Colorado Springs Republican Sen. Bob Gardner during Tuesday’s debate: The desire to bolster government transparency and accountability, on one side, and the need to protect privacy and security, on the other.

“It is difficult,” Gardner said at the front of the Senate, offering an amendment. “But it goes to the heart of the bill. Sooner or later we were going to have to have this discussion.”

john@coloradostatesman.com

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