An effort in the legislature, Senate Bill 343, would eventually eliminate the requirement that local governments publish legal notices of their affairs in newspapers. The state House should kill this bill pushed by Sen. Trudy Wade of Guilford County.
Supporters of this bill that has passed the Senate say they want to save money by cutting costs, shifting public notices to government websites. But elderly and poor citizens who don’t go on the Internet would lose out. They’d miss print announcements of key government meetings making decisions that are crucial to their lives.
On this page, we’ve been upfront on our vested interest in this matter: Our newspaper and many others in this state are paid significant money by local governments to publish these notices. But this fact remains: If our papers didn’t play this role, many vulnerable taxpayers would be left in the dark about many meetings of local governments that their tax dollars pay for, as well as the decisions and taxes to which those meetings might lead.
Bill supporters contend that local government websites will pick up the slack. But many citizens either lack the money or the expertise to access those sites. And even for the computer-friendly, government websites often don’t generate the traffic that newspaper sites do.
The bill would have this change start with a two-year pilot program. The Journal’s Richard Craver and our sister paper, The News & Record of Greensboro, reported that the House is working on a revised version of the bill that would establish the pilot program in four counties to try out the idea that local governments can provide sufficient notice themselves.
“The counties would be Guilford, Durham, Forsyth and Buncombe — notably leaving out Wake and Mecklenburg” the Greensboro paper said in an editorial. “This practice run, if approved, likely will result in less-informed citizens.”
The state House should kill this bill.