Three Republicans in the N.C. Senate filed a bill March 21 to let local governments post public notices on their own websites rather than buying space in newspapers for them; and to post legal notices on their own websites and charge lawyers for that service.
They said in a press release that the bill incorporates provisions supported by newspaper publishers.
But the North Carolina Press Association [of which The Daily Record is a member], said it does not support the bill — and neither do we.
Hiding away public notices on the websites of counties, cities and towns would not, as the bill’s supporters claim, “increase access to public and legal notices by making them available for citizens to view for free online.”
Counties and municipalities are already free to post their notices on their websites.
But far more people read newspapers in print and online than read material on county websites, according to the NCPA.
This topic comes up every few years. In 2013, then-State Rep. Rick Catlin, a New Hanover County Republican, pointed out what everybody knows — not everyone has access to the Internet.
He opposed letting local governments restrict public notices to government-owned websites or TV channels, eliminating the requirement that public notices be published in general circulation newspapers.
That year, we noted that our print and digital editions reached more than half the adults in a three-county readership area. …
In 2015, Republican N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger and Sen. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, sponsored a compromise bill keeping public notices of government actions in newspapers.
That compromise bill passed in the state House 115-4 last session but never made it into law. Now, several state representatives are expected to unveil it again in the coming days.
The compromise bill keeps the requirement that government notices be published in newspapers and requires that the newspapers post those notices on their websites. And it provides a 15 percent discount on notices that must appear more than once.
Local governments are free to publish their notices on their websites. But removing them from widely-read newspapers would be a blow to the public’s right to know.
— From the Jacksonville Daily News. A version of this editorial also appeared in the Star-News of Wilmington.