Colorado Freedom of Information Act
What is the Colorado Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a government law that permits access to many types of public records. States in the United States enact FOIA laws to promote governance accountability to the people through transparency. Colorado’s version of the FOIA is called the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). The ability of Colorado citizens to access public records remained at the discretion of the custodian of the records until the Colorado Open Records Act was formalized in 1969. All writings created, maintained, kept, or held by entities subject to the Colorado Public (Open) Records Act for use in the performance of functions required or allowed by administrative rule or law, or involving the expenditure or receipt of public funds, are considered public records. Note that a record in possession of an agency may not be subject to the CORA if not created, maintained, or retained for a governmental function or an official cause.
What is Covered Under the Colorado Freedom of Information Act?
The public records of California state offices, officials, departments, divisions, bureaus, boards and commissions, and other state organizations and agencies are available for inspection under CORA. You may also inspect the public records of local agencies, such as counties, cities, school districts, municipal corporations, districts, political subdivisions, local public agencies, and nonprofit groups that serve as legislative bodies of a local agency.
Unlike in some other states in the United States, the records of the General Assembly in Colorado are covered under the state's FOIA. However, not all court records are covered by the Act. Asides from statutory mandates relating to specific court records, Colorado courts retain authority over the dissemination of court records. Court register of actions, judgment records, and records of official actions in criminal cases are examples of records that must be made public under the CORA. The CORA also covers nongovernmental bodies receiving public funds and bodies whose members include government officials.
Note that under CORA, public records include all papers, books, photographs, maps, cards, recordings, tape, or other documentary materials irrespective of the physical characteristics or form. Per Section 24-72-202(7) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, public records include "writings," which may also be any digitally stored data such as electronic mail messages. Hence, records maintained in digital or electronic format are considered public records. Colorado does not consider electronic mail whose content has no demonstrable link to the fulfillment of public responsibilities or the receipt or expenditure of public funds as a public record.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Colorado?
Per Section 24-72-204 (2) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, record custodians are authorized to deny the inspection of these public records if they believe that disclosure would be contrary to the interest of the general public:
- Law enforcement investigations, security procedures, or intelligence information
- Test questions and examination data pertaining to licensing, employment, or academic examinations
- Specific details of legitimate research projects conducted by state institutions and legislative staff
- Real estate appraisals performed for the state or a political subdivision until title to the property passes
- Records pertaining to the Colorado Department of Transportation's bid analysis and management system.
- State Department of Revenue records identifying individuals
- E-mail addresses provided by individuals to local or state agencies, institutions, or political subdivisions for the purpose of future electronic communications with the individuals.
- Certain records pertaining to security preparations or investigations
- Records related to civil or administrative proceedings.
According to Section 24-72-204(3)(a) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, record custodians are required by CORA to deny inspection of several categories of public records, other than to persons in interest, such as:
- Personnel records, except for "applications and performance ratings." "Personnel files" refers to and contains home addresses, telephone numbers, financial information, and other information stored in connection with the employer-employee relationship, as well as any records expressly excluded from disclosure under applicable legislation.
- Letters of reference or recommendation
- Trade secrets, privileged information, and any confidential commercial or financial data, including public records covered by attorney-client or work product privileges
- Records of sexual assault complaints and investigations, with certain exceptions
- Records considered classified under the common law governmental or "deliberative process" privilege if public disclosure is likely to stifle candid and open discussion within the government, except if the privilege has been waived.
- All proprietary information supplied by a broadband service provider
- Public inspection of ballots under specific circumstances
Note that under Section 24-72-202(6)(b), the following are excluded from the definition of public records:
- Criminal justice records as defined in Section 24-72-301, et seq., C.R.S.
- Work product prepared for elected officials, except work product released by elected officials
- Information, and records relating to CollegeInvest programs
- Confidential materials received, made, or maintained by a crime victim compensation board or district attorney Notification of a possible nonaccidental fire loss or fraudulent insurance act
- Certain institutional records, institutionally related foundations, institutionally related health care foundations, and institutionally related real estate foundations; an agency's, department's, or institution's information security plan; information security incident reports; or information security audit and assessment reports.
How Do I File a Colorado Freedom of Information Act Request?
To make a request for a public record under CORA in Colorado, you must first determine the custodian of the record you want to inspect or copy. After determining the custodian of the record, you may visit the agency's website to obtain the contact information for making informal requests by telephone. On the custodian's website, you may also be able to find a FOIA request form that may be completed online. Many agencies also have FOIA request forms on their websites that may be downloaded, completed, and mailed to the addresses on the forms.
You may also make formal requests to the record custodian's contact mail. Such requests should include as much information as possible to aid the custodian in finding the requested record. Typically, a written FOIA request should consist of:
- Your name, address, and phone number
- An accurate description of the requested record.
- A statement requiring the custodian to provide non-exempt sections if the record contains information exempted from disclosure
- The date period for the requested record
- Any clues that may help the agency to locate the requested record.
To make a FOIA request to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, send a detailed, written request by email or mail to:
1700 Broadway, Suite 550
Denver, CO 80290
In the request made to the Colorado SoS, include:
- Your name and mailing address
- Your email address and phone number
- A comprehensive list or description of the records sought, including date range and search term.
To submit a FOIA request to the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDOR), make a request in writing to:
Colorado Department of Revenue
Attn: CORA Records Custodian
P.O. Box 17087
Denver, CO 80217-0087
The request must include:
- The date
- The requester's name
- Mailing address
- The company name, if applicable
- Requester’s phone number
- Requester's email
- A detailed list or description of the record being requested.
Note that CORA does not guarantee that access to public records will be made available in a specific format. Pursuant to Section 24-72-203(1)(a) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, when the production of a record in a specific format would interfere with the regular discharge of duties of the agency's employees or levy an undue strain on the agency, the agency is permitted to determine the appropriate format for the record to be produced. At the Department's discretion, records held electronically may be produced electronically; this may or may not imply that records are provided in their original format.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Colorado?
Per Section 24-72-205 C.R.S, the custodian of a public record may charge no more than $0.25 per standard page for a printed copy of a public record or no more than the actual cost of producing a printout, photograph, or copy of the record in a format other than a standard page. If a fee is specified in law for a certified copy or other copy of a record, that cost applies. No fee may be imposed for electronic transfer by mail of public records.
If the custodian has posted on the agency's website or otherwise published a written policy outlining the conditions applicable to the custodian's research and retrieval of public records, including the amount of any fees, the custodian may charge a fee of $33.58 per hour for additional research and retrieval time. Prior to processing a request that will require more than one hour of research and retrieval time, the custodian may collect a deposit equivalent to the expected costs for staff time required to complete the request. If the actual time spent exceeds or falls short of the estimate, the custodian may seek further payment or provide a partial return of the deposit.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Colorado?
CORA requires a prompt response to FOIA records requests. According to the law, records must be made accessible for inspection within three business days of receiving requests for requests made within regular business hours. Otherwise, the three-day period begins at the start of the next business day. This three-day deadline may be extended by seven days in the case of extenuating circumstances, such as when a legislator receives a FOIA request during a legislative session. An extenuating circumstance may also occur when the record custodian is inundated with many FOIA requests or when another related agency or division has to be consulted in the determination of the request.
According to the CORA, except where a specific law stipulates the withholding of a particular record, no public official may deny access to public records. Under Section 24-72-204 (4) of the Colorado Revised Statutes, if a record custodian does not grant access to a requested record, the requester may request a written statement stating the grounds for denial, including the regulation or law under which access is denied.
Furthermore, the applicant may seek an order from the district court of the district where the record is located instructing the custodian of the record to show cause why the record may not be inspected. However, per Section 24-72-204 (5) C.R.S., at least three working days before filing an application with the court, the requester must notify the custodian in writing of the intention to file such an application.