Bill 343 would damage transparency, newspapers


State Senate Bill 343 is bad law, and residents here should fight it.

The bill proposes to keep legal notices out of some, if not all, newspapers, and that flies in the face of laws and constitutional norms for more than 200 years.

The founders of this country believed in transparency and openness because they had seen what tyranny does behind closed doors. That’s why the press is the only business mentioned in the Constitution, in the First Amendment.

The bill, in various forms as it’s changed during the current session, would allow municipalities to opt out of newspaper ads and publish the notices instead on their own government websites. The argument is twofold for bill sponsors: first, it would save money; second, the world is now digital.

The problem with those arguments is more than twofold.

The bill saves little money as compared to the entire budget of the state, counties and municipalities combined across the state.

Worse, it decreases public awareness of how and what government is doing. Newspapers and their respective websites outnumber government websites in North Carolina by millions and millions of views — each day.

One of the goals of the most recent session was to increase online access across the state. How can it be that the state lacks digital access and yet would only print public notices online? Those two ideas don’t jibe.

As recently as 2013, a Federal Communications Commission report said North Carolina ranked last in online access.

Certainly, this bill would hurt newspapers financially and in an age when times are tough enough for print media. By making it more difficult, some communities will actually lose their newspapers, particularly small dailies and weeklies. You might not always like your newspaper, but not having one is far worse.

Taking legal and public notices out of newspapers and printing them solely on government websites will reduce the number of eyes on public decisions and thus the public’s ability to comment on and change actions they do not like.

Please call your local legislators, with one caveat: State Rep. Steve Ross, a Republican who is also the former mayor of Burlington, has proposed a compromise bill that’s similar to one in Florida that has worked successfully for five years. While continuing public notices in newspapers, it increases online access via newspaper websites.

So call state Sen. Rick Gunn at 919-301-1446 and state Rep. Dennis Riddell at 919-733-5905 and ask them to support transparency and the First Amendment.