Editorial: Bills need a deep burial
When the city wins a grant to revitalize a neighborhood, is it satisfied to quietly post the news on its website ó or does it hope for a front-page article and photos?
When the county helps recruit a new business, do commissioners say, ěLetís just put a few paragraphs on our websiteî ó or do they show up for a grand ground-breaking ceremony that will get coverage in the local newspaper?
When local leaders launch a new marketing campaign, do they rely solely on government websites or view newspapers as a crucial way to reach audiences?
Think about those and similar ěgood newsî scenarios as you ponder the rationale behind House Bill 472 and Senate Bill 773, which would allow cities and counties to post public notices on government websites instead of publishing them in local newspapers.
Like Dracula in his coffin, these bills represent a bad idea that refuses to die. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Government resoundingly rejected the House bill 21-10, with Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan) among those voting against it. As the North Carolina Press Association noted at the time, ěthis should kill off this bill.î
But late Tuesday, it appeared HB 472 might be stirring in its coffin. House Majority Leader Skip Stam, one of the primary sponsors, has reintroduced the bill in the House Rules Committee, although it wasnít clear whether he intended for it to be debated anew. Meanwhile, Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie and Rowan) has introduced a similar measure in his chamber. (Brock told the Post editorial board he doesnít expect the Senate bill to come up for discussion this session.)
Letís hope thatís the case. If either of these bills re-emerges into the light of day ó now or next session ó legislators should act in the interest of government transparency, public access to information and accountability. As we urged in an earlier editorial, put a stake through their hearts.
Public notices generate some revenue for newspapers, but that isnít the reason this idea deserves a quick death. Itís also true that governments need to cut costs, but updating and maintaining websites takes resources. Thereís no guarantee this will actually save money; thereís no doubt it would reduce the visibility of public notices.
Thereís nothing wrong with governments publishing information on their own websites, of course. But giving government agencies the discretion to publish public notices only on their own websites vastly increases their ability to control the dessemination of that information.
When governments want to spread the good word, they know local newspapers remain the best single way to connect with the community. The same holds true if they really want public notices to remain in the public eye.