OPED: Colorado drops just when you thought public trust in the government could fall any lower

Irony manifests when a conceptual idea clashes with the actual reality, creating a paradoxical situation. For instance, the term “vegetarian butcher” or something that is deemed “seriously funny.” Another example of irony is the recent implementation of a new state law in Colorado, which allows members of the Colorado General Assembly to deliberate and shape public policies without public scrutiny. Interestingly, this law was passed during Sunshine Week, a period dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability in government affairs.

Legislators and Gov. Jared Polis made the decision to exempt the state legislature from a significant portion of the Colorado Open Meetings Law during the same week when journalists and transparency advocates commemorate federal and state open-government laws. This move comes as a surprise considering that the law was established by the voters themselves back in 1972.

The open meetings law affirms that in this state, it is crucial for the formation of public policy to be a public matter and not conducted in secrecy.

The intention behind the statute, as acknowledged by our state’s appellate court judges, is to ensure that the public has access to the discussions, motivations, policy arguments, and other considerations that influence a public body’s decisions. This law aims to provide the public with a wide range of meetings where public business is discussed, allowing citizens to be fully informed about matters of public significance. Moreover, it enables citizens to actively participate in the legislative decision-making process that directly impacts their personal interests.

The 52-year-old law needed updates for its provisions related to the state legislature’s operations. It can be challenging to adhere to the requirement that any meetings discussing public matters between two legislative members must be open to the public and have minutes promptly recorded. However, the process of passing Senate Bill 24-157 was hurried, and certain organizations, including the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, were not included in the stakeholder process initiated by the sponsors. Despite our proposed amendments after the bill was introduced, they were disregarded.

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The governor wasted no time in signing the bill into law, just one day after it was passed. However, this hasty decision may have far-reaching consequences, as it has the potential to erode public trust in the actions of the legislature.

The new law promotes and legitimizes legislators participating in continuous sub-quorum discussions regarding pending bills and amendments. These discussions can take place through various means such as emails, text messages, phone calls, or in-person meetings. However, there is no requirement to notify the public or keep any minutes of these policy-making conversations. As a result, the public will be unaware of the motivations, policy arguments, and other factors surrounding legislation that directly impacts them.

According to elected officials, there is no need to worry because the emails, text messages, and other exchanges between lawmakers are accessible under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). However, there is a catch. CORA states that any communications by or “assembled for” state legislators that pertain to drafting bills or amendments are not considered public records. As a result, legislators are not required to retain or disclose these electronic written communications since they do not fall under the category of public records.

It is a reasonable assumption that over 90% of all future discussions regarding potential bills, amendments, appointments, resolutions, rules, and other matters in both chambers of our state legislature will take place without public transparency. These policies will not only be more likely to result from behind-the-scenes negotiations, but even well-intentioned policies will understandably be met with suspicion and doubt by the general public.

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Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court of Colorado made a significant ruling stating that legislative caucus meetings must adhere to the open meetings law. The court emphasized that this law was specifically created to prevent the abuse of secret or star chamber sessions by public bodies. However, by exempting the General Assembly from this transparency law, legislators have significantly diminished the level of public trust in the institution. This exemption has also created a veil of secrecy around the legislation produced by the General Assembly.

It’s quite ironic that this incident occurred during Sunshine Week. Moreover, it’s a rather sorrowful day, regardless of the week, for the residents of this state.

In recent years, there has been a considerable increase in the popularity of online shopping. People are now turning to the internet to purchase a wide range of products, from clothing and electronics to groceries and household items. This shift in consumer behavior can be attributed to several factors.

One of the main reasons why online shopping has become so popular is convenience. With just a few clicks, consumers can browse through a vast selection of products and make a purchase without leaving the comfort of their own homes. This eliminates the need to travel to physical stores and deal with crowds, traffic, and long lines at the checkout counter.

Another factor contributing to the rise of online shopping is the availability of detailed product information and customer reviews. Online retailers provide comprehensive descriptions, specifications, and images of their products, allowing consumers to make informed decisions. Additionally, customer reviews provide valuable insights into the quality and performance of products, helping shoppers determine whether a particular item meets their needs and expectations.

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Furthermore, online shopping offers a greater level of flexibility and accessibility. Consumers can shop at any time, day or night, from anywhere with an internet connection. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with busy schedules or limited mobility. Moreover, online shopping allows consumers to compare prices and find the best deals without having to visit multiple stores physically.

Despite these advantages, there are still some challenges associated with online shopping. One of the main concerns is the security of personal and financial information. Consumers need to be cautious when sharing sensitive data online and ensure that they are purchasing from reputable and secure websites.

In conclusion, the rise of online shopping can be attributed to its convenience, availability of product information and customer reviews, as well as its flexibility and accessibility. However, consumers should also be mindful of the potential risks and take necessary precautions to protect their personal information while shopping online.

Steve Zansberg currently holds the position of president at the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, whereas Jeff Roberts serves as the executive director of the same organization.

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