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Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis exempt legislature from Colorado's open meetings law

New law effectively exempts Legislature from Colorado's open meetings law
New law effectively exempts Legislature from Colorado's open meetings law 02:58

This week marks Sunshine Week -- a celebration of access to public information -- but Democratic lawmakers in Colorado and Gov. Jared Polis marked the week by passing a law that will limit access to public information.

The new law effectively exempts the legislature -- and only the legislature -- from the state's open meetings law.

It comes after Democratic leadership was sued twice last year for violating the open meetings law. Instead of coming into compliance with it, they passed a law to get around it.

The law essentially legalizes backroom deals and secret voting by allowing lawmakers to meet privately in small groups, without any public notice or record of what was discussed. It also allows them to communicate via text or email about public policy without the public having any knowledge of it or access to it.


Senate President Steve Fenberg and Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie carried the measure themselves, fast-tracking it through the legislature and even inserting a clause requiring it take effect immediately upon the governor's signature - declaring it a matter of peace, health, and safety.

"The public wants public business to be done in public, not in secret, not in what is now the equivalent of a backroom cigar-smoking caucus," says attorney Suzanne Taheri, who sued democratic leadership last year after learning they had been using a secret electronic voting system for five years to rank bills and prioritize spending. "In court, they said the reason was that then the pressure would be off them. They could vote how they want to. In other words, they don't want to be accountable to the people."

Taheri argued the secret voting was a violation of the state's open meetings law, which was passed by Colorado voters more than 50 years ago.

The judge agreed. A month later, Fenberg and McCluskie introduced their bill to essentially override the ruling.

"As long as that meeting is electronic there's no way to see what's happening, there's no way to know what your legislator is doing, there's no way to hold your legislator accountable. We have no idea what commitments they made potentially to other legislators, what kind of bill trading is going on. We have no idea," she said. 


Polis signed the bill within hours of it reaching his office. He released a statement suggesting it was up to the legislature to police itself saying, "as a coequal branch of government, the executive should rarely intrude on the inner workings of the legislature."

"He cites The Federalist Papers and the separation of powers and, I mean, it was just a ridiculous signing statement, like he's Thomas Jefferson signing the Declaration of Independence when what he is really doing is undoing a citizens' initiative," said Taheri. 

And he undid it for lawmakers only.  Every government entity is still subject to the open meetings law except the legislature. 

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