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Secret survey results reveal top bills at state Capitol, but leave some questions unanswered

Colorado State Capitol building taken at golden hour and from below looking up against a blue sky
Scott Franz
Colorado Democrats released the results of an anonymous bill ranking survey they took March 24 in response to an open records request. Lawmakers at the state Capitol and transparency advocates have different outlooks when it comes to the use of quadratic voting.

Democrats at the state Capitol have released the results of a secret survey they took last month to help decide which bills should get a piece of the state’s budget. The documents reveal lawmakers’ top spending priorities, but transparency advocates are continuing to allege the private bill ranking survey violates the state’s open meetings law. 

Jeff Roberts, the director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, told KUNC last week the anonymity of the results prevents the public from seeing how individual lawmakers stood on important pieces of legislation.

“The public is entitled to know how their elected officials, their legislators stand on on certain issues when they actually do cast a vote for them,” he said. “And the open meetings law bars the use of secret ballots. Caucus meetings are supposed to be open.”

Lawmakers took the anonymous survey on March 24 to rank 140 bills, including some that had not yet been introduced to the public.

KUNC investigative reporter Scott Franz joined Morning Edition host Dylan Simard to talk about the ongoing transparency concerns, what the results of the survey reveal and how they might eventually clarify a debate between lawmakers about how influential the survey is at the Capitol. 

Some say the survey does have a big influence on what bills live or die, while others claim it's not a "determining factor.

Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, told KUNC last year the bills that rank higher in the survey are generally scheduled for votes earlier in the session.

"And the earlier something gets moved, the better chance it has of success," he said. "If it gets held up or delayed. There's always more risk as the process goes on."

Meanwhile, other lawmakers are downplaying the survey results.

Sen. President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, told KUNC the survey is not a "determining factor" in the decision making process.

"I think it is honestly just a data point in a big complex web of decision making," he said.

You can view the raw documents from the open records request as a PDF here.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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