Colorado Bill Aims to Seal Minors’ Autopsy Reports

Journalism outfits in Colorado are pressing Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) to veto a bill that would seal the autopsy reports of minors, making it difficult to report on the deaths of children involved in the child welfare system.

Under Senate Bill 18-223, autopsy reports for minors who have died will be confidential and available only to certain parties by statute. Such parties include parents and guardians, law enforcement, legal counsel in certain legal proceedings, and child fatality or domestic violence review committees, and the Colorado Department of Public Health.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.). Photo: Colorado.gov

The bill’s supporters say the law would protect other minors from copycat suicides and homicides. But four state journalism entities have asked Hickenlooper to veto the bill.

The authors have little evidence to demonstrate that this is a significant issue, according to a blog post from Jeffrey A. Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC), one of the four groups that reached out to the governor.

“If the bill becomes law, journalists and academics will have to wage costly court battles in order to obtain access to the reports they need to examine the child welfare system and to report on suspicious or otherwise controversial child deaths,” reads a letter from the CFOIC.

The Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Springs Press Association are the other three entities opposing the bill.

In its letter to the governor, the Colorado Broadcasters Association described the autopsy reports as “the memoirs of those who couldn’t defend themselves” and said the bill “silences those voices and ultimately removes our ability, as journalists and as a community, to identify and change broken systems that allow the gratuitous death of a child.”

The four organizations protesting the bill pointed to a 2012 investigative series by The Denver Post and 9News called “Failed to Death,” which examined the deaths of 175 Colorado children, as an example of the importance of keeping autopsy records of minors presumptively open.

SB 18-223 was sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner (R) of Colorado Springs and Rep. Matt Gray (D) of Broomfield. It was sent to the governor on May 17.

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Christie Renick
About Christie Renick 107 Articles
Tucson-based Southwest Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Follow @christiejrenick.

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