Internet Publication Bill: Back to Life?
A committee substitute for H.B. 335 (Stickland) has been voted out of the House Committee on Technology. After a March 18 hearing at which newspapers opposed to the bill showed up in force, many believed that the bill was dead. The as-filed bill would have provided that any political subdivision may satisfy a newspaper notice publication requirement by posting the notice on its Internet website.
A similar bill, H.B. 3646 (Harper-Brown), was heard in the House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform on April 1. The bill would give a city the discretion to provide public notices on its website rather than paying for newspaper publication if the website reaches more readers. That bill was attacked not only by newspapers, but by the members of Harper-Brown’s own committee. She had hardly begun laying out her bill in her committee before other committee members began to attack her idea as harmful to local newspapers.
The committee substitute for H.B. 335 attempts to provide a balanced approach and would provide that:
- the comptroller shall establish a website on which a political subdivision can post notices that are required by law;
- a political subdivision shall provide to the comptroller an electronic copy of each notice required by law, except for election notices, to be published by the political subdivision in a newspaper;
- the political subdivision must submit the notice to the comptroller in the format required by the comptroller not later than the third day before the date the political subdivision is required to first publish the notice in the newspaper;
- a political subdivision shall determine by official action if the political subdivision will exclusively provide notice through the comptroller or continue to provide notice by publication in a newspaper, in addition to providing that notice; and
- a political subdivision that determines to exclusively provide notice through the comptroller shall publish in a newspaper of general circulation in the political subdivision once a week for four consecutive weeks the Internet address of the web page on the comptroller’s website at which the political subdivision’s notices may be located.
Opponents will certainly continue to argue that eliminating a print publication requirement reduces government transparency. Of course, that argument ignores the fact that print newspaper readership is declining every year. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 23 percent of Americans read print newspapers, and that number had declined by 18 percent over a ten-year period. Burying a public notice in a newspaper that not even a quarter of the citizens read would not appear to promote government transparency.
City officials who support Internet alternatives to newspaper publication should contact their House members to express support for H.B. 335 and H.B. 3646.