Lawmakers will try to tackle two major problems with state open records laws in the session starting Jan. 6, including a bill, sparked by a Watchdog.org series, requiring state courts to abide by open records laws.
State Reps. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth, and Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, are working on legislation to require the Colorado Judicial Branch to abide by the transparency provisions of the Colorado Open Records Act after the courts exempted themselves from the law in 2012.
The courts set up their own records rules in the fall, but lawmakers believe they should be included.
“I still think it needs to be clearly in statute,” Lawrence told Watchdog.org after the courts released their final rules. “I don’t want another Supreme Court justice changing the rules. Even if they do align well (with CORA), it still needs to be language in statute.”
State Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, is proposing a measure that would require governments to provide electronic records if they exist — instead of paper versions or locked PDFs.
“We’re trying to make government as open as possible,” Kefalas said in December.
Additionally, lawmakers hope to put restraints on court overseers, such as guardians, trustees and conservators, after constituents complained some court-appointed fiduciaries looted their inherited accounts or destroyed their businesses with little accountability.
State Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, held meetings over the summer to figure out language that would provide accountability but still let the courts function. She hoped to introduce an early bill but now thinks crafting the language would take longer than expected.
“I don’t have language yet,” Woods wrote in an email exchange with Watchdog.org in early December. “It may be a delayed status bill.”
The costs of Medicaid expansion will also be the focus of the state’s budget, as revenue from hospital provider fees will stretch Taxpayer Bill of Rights limits.
The state collects a 5.5 percent fee on patient services and is planning to use it to pay for Medicaid expansion as the federal government reduces the percentage it pays for people up to 133 percent of poverty. However, that revenue counts under the cap, limiting the amount of additional revenue the state can keep under TABOR.
Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to reduce the percentage the state collects of the fee to avoid any refunds to taxpayers under the constitutional limits.
“At the present time, both available forecasts show that the State will not be able to retain all of the revenue available, and the excess revenue is a refund liability in the General Fund,” Hickenlooper wrote in his budget letter to the General Assembly in November. “However, the presence of refunds under the revenue limit established by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is the result of cash fund revenue collected outside the General Fund, notably the hospital provider fee established in House Bill 09-1293.”