Colorado Open Records Act
The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the records of government bodies at all levels in Colorado. The law was first enacted in 1969. Until the law was formalized, the ability of a citizen to gain access to public records was at the discretion of the custodian of the records, except in those cases where records custodians were forbidden to allow access.
The Colorado Sunshine Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Statute 24-6-402 of the Colorado legislature define the law.
To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Colorado FOIA procedures.
Relevant legal cases
Here is a list of lawsuits in Colorado (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).
|CFI Steel v. Office of Air Pollution Control||2003|
|Cole v. State of Colorado||1983|
|Dawson v. State Compensation Insurance Authority||1990|
|Denver Post v. Ritter||2008|
|Denver Post v. Stapleton Development||2000|
|Denver Post v. University of Colorado||1987|
|Downing v. Brown||1877|
|Freedom Newspapers v. Colorado Springs||1987|
|Glenwood Post v. City of Glenwood Springs||1986|
|Hudspeth v. Board of County Commissioners||1983|
|International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District||1994|
|Times-Call Publishing Co. Inc. v. Wingfield||1966|
|Wick v. Montrose County Board of County Commissioners||2003|
|Zubeck v. El Paso County Retirement Plan||1998|
We do not currently have any legislation for Colorado in 2011.
We have no current bill pages for Colorado from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.
House Bill 1145 required private investigators to register with the state's attorney general and created a rebuttable presumption that registered private investigators may access public records including driver's license and vehicle records information. However, public agency employees would be authorized to deny access to the records "if contrary to the public interest".
House Bill 1251 created a presumption that criminal records involving investigations are public records, but it also allowed for record custodians to deny access to the records if they determine disclosure is "contrary to the public interest".
Senate Bill 49 sought to make the compensation information of state employees subject to public records requirements under the Colorado Open Records Act so long as the identifying information of employees is kept confidential.
Senate Bill 57, also known as the "Public School Financial Transparency Act", sought to require Colorado school districts to post their budgets online in searchable formats. Bruce Coughy, deputy director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, opposed the bill, saying that it amounted to an unfunded mandate placed on school districts. Primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch), said, "The only opposition is that this would be a burden to the administration, and if the citizens want this information they can get it through an open records request. That type of arrogance from government bureaucrats is exactly why the citizens have lost trust in our government and why this bill is important."
On February 19, SB 57 passed the state senate on its third reading by a vote of 26-8. But on March 19, after a marathon hearing that lasted more than four hours, the bill was killed by the Democrat-controlled House Education Committee on an 8-5 party-line vote. Before killing SB 57, the committee narrowly agreed to adopt an amendment proposed by House sponsor Republican Rep. Amy Stephens to make the bill's provisions less burdensome for school districts.
Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute supported SB 57, saying, "Shining sunlight on the detailed financial picture for all to see would help strengthen the 'public' in public education." About 30 other citizens visited the Capitol on February 2, 2009 to show their support for the bill.
Transparency report card
Features of the law
- Compare States: Sunshine variations
- Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.
Declared legal intention
Colorado Revised Statutes 24-72-201 states, "It is declared to be the public policy of this state that all public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times, except as provided in this part 2 or as otherwise specifically provided by law."
What records are covered?
- See also: Defining public records
Colorado Revised Statutes 24-72-202 (6)(a) defines "public records" as "all writings" that are "made," "maintained," "kept" or "held" by entities that are subject to CORA "for use in the exercise of functions required or authorized by law or administrative rule or involving the receipt or expenditure of public funds."
This could mean that a record that is in the custody of an agency subject to CORA would not, itself, be subject to CORA if it was not made, maintained or kept for a governmental function or for an official reason.
In Wick v. Montrose County Board of County Commissioners, a 2003 case, a judge determined that a county manager's private diary was not a public record.
A "writing" is defined as "all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics." Data that is stored digitally, including e-mail, is included in the definition.
Computer records are frequently used in Colorado government to hold public information, and such records are included under the Colorado Open Records Law. "For example, electronic mail is widely used, and is an open record unless it is otherwise exempt from public inspection. The same is true of records kept in government databases."
The Colorado Open Records Act has a number of clear exemptions to guarantee deliberative process. The first, found at Colo. Rev. Stat. 24-72-202(6)(a)((II)(A and C), exempts correspondence that is work product and all correspondence with constituents "that clearly implies by its nature or content that the constituent expects that it is confidential."
An additional exemption for all "work product" can be found at Colo. Rev. Stat. 24-72-202(6)(b)(I)-(III). The statute exempts, "Work product prepared for elected officials. However, elected officials may release, or authorize the release of, all or any part of work product prepared for them." 
The law also contains an extremely expansive definitions of work product, found at Colo. Rev. Stat. 24-72-202(6.5). The definition defines "work product" as:
"All intra- or inter-agency advisory or deliberative materials assembled for the benefit of elected officials, which materials express an opinion or are deliberative in nature and are communicated for the purpose of assisting such elected officials in reaching a decision within the scope of their authority."
The statute states that "work product" includes:
- Notes that function as background work for decisions.
- Preliminary drafts of documents.
- Bill and amendment drafts, as well as documents prepared in the process of drafting bills.
- Documents created by legislative staff when responding to constituent correspondence, when the correspondence qualifies for exemption
- Research conducted by legislative staff relating to preparing a bill.
Work product does not include:
- Final bill drafts.
- Final research projects relating to bills, unless the legislator specifically requests that they remain exempt.
- Final versions of documents which announce final decisions.
- Final versions of financial audits and documents relating to the expenditure of tax dollars.
- Any work product which is distributed to public officials at an open meetings.
- Final versions of documents that contain solely factual information.
- Comparisons of any existing laws or regulations with proposed bills, comparisons amongst proposed legislation and comparisons of legislation within different jurisdictions.
- Compilations of records already considered public.
- Compilations of current laws or ordinances.
What agencies are covered?
- See also: Defining public body
The Colorado Open Records Act subjects the "state, any agency, institution, a nonprofit corporation incorporated pursuant to section 23-5-121 (2), C.R.S., or political subdivision of the state, or that are described in section 29-1-902, C.R.S., and held by any local-government-financed entity" to the disclosure requirements.
CORA applies to virtually all levels and types of governments across Colorado. This includes state agencies and institutions, cities, counties, towns, school districts, special districts and housing authorities.
Public governmental bodies are defined as legislative, administrative or other entities created by the constitution or statutes of the state. An organization may also be considered a governmental entity by ordinance of any political subdivision or districts as well as judicial entities when operating in an administrative role.
CORA also applies to any "agency or instrumentality" of a political subdivision, as determined in the case Zubeck v. El Paso County Retirement Plan. Other non-profit corporations could be considered to fall under the Colorado Open Records Laws if they were established by a governmental body to perform governmental functions with public funds. This interpretation was articulated in Denver Post v. Stapleton Development.
Education agencies are subject to CORA. The state's institutions of higher education, including public universities and colleges, are subject to open records requests. The University of Colorado and its regents are specifically included. As another testament to the wide scope of Colorado Open Records laws, the acts specifically comment on "institutionally related foundations," including health care and real estate foundations as being subject to the laws. An institutionally related foundation is defined as a nonprofit corporation, institute or similar entity that is organized for the benefit of an institution, and whose principal purpose is receiving private donations to be used for the benefit of that institution. "Public records" for such a foundation include all writings relating to the requests for disbursement or expenditure of funds. 
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
The Colorado state legislature is covered under the Colorado Open Records Act.
- CORA applies to members of the Executive Branch.
- It applies to the records of all executives.
- It applies to records "for use in the exercise of functions required or authorized by law or administrative rule or involving the expenditure of public funds".
In Denver Post v. Ritter, a lawsuit filed in 2008, the Denver Post sued Governor Bill Ritter over Ritter's refusal to provide the newspaper with 19 months of cell phone records for a private cell phone that Ritter used for some political or governmental discussions. The lawsuit established that the private cell phone records were exempt , despite their occasional use for public purposes.
Privatized governmental agencies
Colorado legal history presents two clear instances where the Colorado Open Records Act applies to private corporations. If a corporation is publicly funded and was created by a public body, it is subject to the act. Also, if a corporation was created by a public body, serves a public function and is controlled by the public body, it is subject to the act. 
- See also: Universities and open records
The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state.
Who may request records?
According to the CORA statutes, any person may inspect any public record at any reasonable time. The statute says, "All public records shall be open for inspection by any person." This includes public employees, elected officials, corporations (for-profit and non-profit) and journalists. 
Must a purpose be stated?
- See also: States requiring a statement of purpose
Those who request records are not required to state a purpose, and the custodian of the records should not ask them to provide a reason.
How can records be used?
- See also: Record use restrictions
The Colorado Open Records Act does place some restrictions on the use of public records:
- Criminal justice records cannot be used for solicitation of business for monetary gain.
Time allowed for response
- See also: Request response times by state
Colorado law stipulates a three day deadline.
Fees for records
- See also: How much do public records cost?
Colorado law permits charging fees for both duplication and search costs. Fees may be waived if the records are being used for public service.
- See also: Sunshine laws and search fees
Colorado law permits charging fees for both duplication and search costs. Fees may be waived if the records are being used for public service.
Role of the Attorney General
- See also: Role of the Attorney General
There is currently no provision within the state open records law that empowers the State Department of Law to enforce the right of the public to access governmental records.
The Colorado Sunshine Law for open meetings legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. The Colorado sunshine law, first passed in 1973, was finally modified to include the current open meetings laws in 1996. Statute 24-6-402 of the Colorado code defines the law.
The Associated Press learned through a CORA request that the state's Department of Natural Resources understated the costs of a new oil and gas regulation program when legislative hearings were held on the proposed program in 2007. A February 2007 financial statement given to lawmakers during their deliberations estimated the cost of enforcing the new regulatory regime at $6,840. However, the Associated Press discovered that the agency had a "Plan A" outline of estimated costs for the program--which put the estimated cost of the new regulatory apparatus at $1.2 million for fiscal year 2007-2008.
- Colorado FOIA procedures
- Colorado transparency advocates
- Colorado transparency legislation
- Private agency, public dollars-Colorado
- Colorado Sunshine Law for open meetings
- Past Articles on Colorado
- Nineteen Frequently Asked Questions about Colorado Open Records Law - From the Colorado Attorney General
- Open Government Guide to Colorado - FAQs about Open Records Law
- Colorado Common Cause: Holding Power Accountable
- Sample Open Records Request - By Colorado Common Cause
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Text & Status of HB 1145
- ↑ Text & Status of HB 1251
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Text & Status of SB 49
- ↑ Senate committee contemplates online school budgets, January 29, 2009
- ↑ Putting the "public" back in public schools, Independence Institute, January 26, 2009
- ↑ Activists Want School Spending Details Online, Associated Press, February 3, 2009
- ↑ Integrity Index
- ↑ States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- ↑ Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 CO Rev. Stat. 24-72-201
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 CO Rev. Stat. 24-72-202
- ↑ CO Attorney General - Colorado Open Records Act Nineteen Frequently Asked Questions
- ↑ CO Rev. Stat. 24-72-202 (Courtesy of Michie's)
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 CO Attorney General - Colorado Open Records Act Nineteen Frequently Asked Questions
- ↑ FindLaw Case Summary - Zubeck v. El Paso County Retirement Plan
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Open Government Guide to Colorado
- ↑ Post sues over Ritter's phone records, August 12, 2008
- ↑ Denver Post v. Ritter
- ↑ Private agency, public dollars-Colorado
- ↑ Associated Press, "Lawmakers: State withheld budget figure on energy", February 3, 2009
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