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'Step into my parlor ...'
April 25, 2013
"Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity ... To even give the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices tarnishes the reputation of government.”
— Tenn. State Senator Ken Yager, R, on the passing of legislation to continue to publish publications in newspapers.
During recent debate on N.C. Senate Bill 287, Notice Publication by Some Local Governments, all kinds of arguments were given as to why the state legislature should stop providing protection for its residents and instead leave local governments to decide if they want to quit publishing notices in newspapers about budget hearings, tax changes, annexations, rezoning and the like and put it somewhere — anywhere, really — on a government website.
One argument is that the state legislature, or at least the state senate, believes it should not compel local municipalities and instead let them decide what is best for their residents.
That’s the exact opposite of their argument used to support Senate Bill 139, Zoning & Aesthetic Controls.
In S139 (House Bill 150), state senators are taking from local governments the long-standing ability to decide for themselves what residential developments should look like, except in special circumstances.
Another argument for ditching newspaper notifications is that the state should not help out specific businesses, meaning newspapers, since newspapers actually charge government to print and distribute the public notices.
Municipalities pay out taxpayer money all the time to private business for services they or their residents receive.
What county paves its own roads?
Which town has its own general contracting company?
There’s still a problem the state senate doesn’t want to face in its zeal. As Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, Franklin, said in defense of S287 in a phone conversation April 18, in another 30 years, everyone will be accessing news via the Internet.
But that’s in 30 years. That’s not today.
And even then, the only thing that would change at this newspaper is that we’d no longer have to pay a printer. We would still be gathering and writing and be the go-to place for news, not a town government website.
U.S. Census data released last year reveals nearly 40 percent of North Carolina households are currently without Internet access at home.
Almost a quarter of households are without a computer. Of course, even if there is a computer, with 40 percent lacking Internet, many computers are little more than fancy typewriters.
In this down economy, cost of access must be considered. A one-year subscription to most local papers (including this one) costs less than a single month of Internet.
Of course, most senators in Raleigh don’t face the budget constraints ordinary residents do. Internet access is of no concern to them.
Senate Bill 287 passed 26-23 Monday and now heads to the House for debate.
But in the House, there is already House Bill 723, Legal Notices/Require Internet Publication. HB 723 is a cost-saving measure for towns and counties. It requires newspapers to offer at least a 15-percent discount on notices that have to run more than once.
It also requires newspapers to foot the bill for publishing notices on a free, easily accessible website, at no additional charge to the advertiser. The Legal Notice section must be on the front page of the website and have a search function.
Additionally, newspapers must provide free e-mail notification when notices are added to the website to anyone who requests it — important details not even touched upon by the Senate bill.
House Bill 723 has the full support of the North Carolina Press Association — most of its member newspapers with websites already provide such functions.
Sponsors of the bill are Chris Malone, R-35, Marilyn Avila, R-40, Jim Fulghum, R-49, and Ted Davis, R-19. Joining them are Carl Ford, R-76, House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, R-87, and Winkie Wilkins, D-2.
Legislation similar to HB 723 was just signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The measure was passed by the Tennessee Senate, 31-1, and its House, 94-1.
The primary senate and house sponsors (both Republicans) said the compelling reason for support was “increased transparency.”
Tennessee State Senator Ken Yager, R, said, “This bill recognizes the public’s right to know what is going on in their government. Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity ... To even give the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices tarnishes the reputation of government.”
If only N.C. state senators understood what their Tennessee brethren do. Then we wouldn’t feel like tiny flies being led into government’s giant, sticky web.
***Senators who opposed Senate Bill 287 were:
Republicans Goolsby, Meredith, Pate, Rabon, Randleman and Sanderson.
Democrats Blue, Bryant, Clark, Clodfelter, Don Davis, Ford, Graham, Jendins, Kinnaird, McKissick, McLaurin, Nesbitt Parmon, Robinson, Stein, Walters and Woodard.
Senators who voted for Senate Bill 287 — to stop requiring publication of notices in independent, third party publications — were all Republican:
Allran, Apodaca, Barefoot, Barringer, Berger, Brock, Brown, Brunstetter, Cook, Curtis, Daniel, Jim Davis, Gunn, Harrington, Hartsell, Hise, Hunt, Jackson, Newton, Rabin, Rucho, Soucek, Tarte, Tillman, Tucker and Wade.