Editorial: Representatives should back win-win bill

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 05:54 PM

Should our Republican-dominated General Assembly seek to truly operate away from the public’s trusting eyes with bills related to public notices, we’ll know for sure in the life and death of House Bill 723.

HB 723, a proposal backed by the N.C. Press Association and this newspaper, keeps the idea of public notices in place while working with government entities and their taxpayers to keep costs minimal. The bill keeps public notices in the local newspaper. The newspaper is also required, after accepting, to post it online for no additional charge.

The newspapers would publish in print and online the same day, with a clearly visible link to public notices on its homepage. A search function must be present for public notices.

And newspapers unable to fulfill this requirement can use a statewide site through sponsorship of the NCPA. Email notices for anyone wanting them would also be available.

Without question, this partnership is the best solution to date. Newspapers do have a financial interest in publishing public notices, but that amount varies and is smaller for larger newspapers, greater for smaller newspapers. Capping the cost to the government, translated taxpayers, is more proof our industry’s goal is to serve the people best. Any respected elected official should want the same.

Should the continued trend of bills filed that remove public notices from newspapers continue, taxpayers can expect to be paying more for their governments at all levels to add staff, Internet storage and methods of accountability. They can also expect difficulty in finding out about important notices related to property taxes, wells, waste water, even drilling for natural gas through the controversial hydraulic fracturing method known as fracking.

Tri-County taxpayers can also expect the only way they’ll learn if their government entity is going to build something on their street is to follow their website regularly, or attend their meetings. We’ve been there, and we know, community participation at government meetings runs low, real low.

Lawmakers should defeat HB 504, HB 755, SB 186 and SB 287. All attempt to take public notices out of the public’s view.

Tell Reps. Nathan Baskerville and Winkie Wilkins to push for HB 723.