Citing lower costs and the digital age, Republican State Rep. Jerry Miller has introduced legislation to remove paid public notices from newspapers and instead post them for free on local government websites.
The measure, House Bill 195, is opposed by the Kentucky Press Association, which represents 178 member newspapers, on the ground it would defeat the purpose of the notices to inform the general public about important local information and protect government transparency.
Under current Kentucky law, government public notices must be published in general circulation newspapers. The notices include details about taxes, foreclosures, rezoning, land taking, contract bids, school budgets and other government intentions and actions.
Newspapers also post them to their websites for maximum public reach, said David T. Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association.
In addition, he said, the association maintains a central website (kypublicnotice.com) for local newspaper public notices, making them searchable to the public by city, county, date of publication and newspaper title.
“There are plenty of opportunities to say they’re available in the digital era” as well as in print, said Thompson.
Miller, who represents metro Louisville’s 6th legislative district, said towns, cities, schools and taxing districts should not be required to advertise public notices in newspapers at a time the people mostly get information on electronic devices.
He also objects to the expense of advertising public notices in print. He said the Louisville -Jefferson County Metro Government, on which he once served, spends about $430,000 annually on public notices, and that school board officials told him they spent more than $1 million.
Miller’s bill does require local governments to publish a one-time advertisement in the newspaper informing the public where to find the public notices on what government websites. Failure to do so could result in a small court fine if anyone objects and files a legal action to enforce the penalty.
The press association’s Thompson said transferring public notices from newspapers to local government websites could result in added costs for rural communities and counties with dated computer systems.
He also said the change would result in fewer residents being informed about important legal and other matters. He said it would adversely affect seniors without Internet capabilities, lower-income residents, and those rural regions without good Internet service.
But the most important objection is the threat to government transparency and the right of the people to know what their local officials are doing on the public’s behalf, said Thompson.
“We feel government agencies should not control what information they make available to the people,” he said. “Letting them put it on their website when they want, where they want it and how they want it is wrong.”
Previous legislative efforts to remove public notice advertising from newspapers have failed to gain traction in the Kentucky Legislature. One reason is many newspapers in rural areas rely on the revenue from the ads.
Miller is determined to turn the tide this year.
“I need to save my school board and metro government money,” he said. “I’ve got to get this bill done.”