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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state May 1, 2016

2/19/2013 1:54:00 PM
Measure would allow cities to post legal notices online instead of in print

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Saying the money can be better used, members of a House panel voted Thursday to let cities and counties put their legal notices online instead of in newspapers.

The 4-2 vote came despite objections from newspaper publishers and their lobbyists who insisted there needs to be independent verification that information is being given to voters.

"I don't believe any government can be trusted enough to police itself," said Jonathan Paton. The former state legislator is now representing Wick Communications, which publishes 14 newspapers in the state.

But the supporters of HB 2533 were persuaded by the cost to taxpayers.

Dale Wiebusch, lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, presented legislators with a city-by-city list of what 50 of them now spend meeting the current legal requirement to publish their notices. It totaled $1.8 million a year, even without including Phoenix.

Those figures, however, vary widely, with half of that cost incurred by Mesa. By contrast, the League's figures put the annual price tag for Tucson at $26,380.

The future of this legislation remains murky, as newspapers have been able to marshal the votes to defeat multiple prior efforts in prior years.

But the tide may be turning in favor of the local government, with the Legislature previously having allowed counties to quit publishing the minutes of their meetings in newspapers in favor of online posting. And Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said it's time for Arizona governments to embrace the available technology.

The trade-off, though, could be weakening already financially embattled newspapers.

Manuel Coppola, publisher of the Nogales International, told members of the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure that public notices comprise 25 percent of his budget. He said losing those revenues would mean the loss of two staffers.

But Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said the problems of newspapers are irrelevant to this discussion.

He noted Coppola's testimony that the paper's circulation was 4,500 a decade ago and now is just 3,000. And that is even with the continuing mandate on local governments to pay newspapers to publish their notices.

"So it doesn't look like that revenue was an issue for declining subscriptions,' Stevens told Coppola.

But Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, openly worried about the effect of this legislation.

"If would kill our newspaper,' she said in voting against the measure. And Otondo said that would ultimately hurt the overall community.

The Arizona Newspapers Association already maintains a web site to post legal notices that its members publish. And Ginger Lamb, publisher of the Arizona Capitol Times, said her own weekly paper also puts its legal notices online, saying the web site gets 1.5 million hits a year.

Stevens noted, though, the print circulation is only 5,500.

"You're kind of making our point that the digital stuff is easier access and more accessible than the print,' he said.

"Not everybody's online,' Lamb responded.

But Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said even those who do not have Internet access at home can go to public libraries to access the information.

The bottom-line argument of the newspapers, though, is their independence from the government.

"You are trusting government to police itself on that issue' of giving people the notice of its activities, Paton said. "That's ultimately one of the most disturbing parts of the bill.'

He said government may have "a vested interest in not providing public notice on a given issue.'

Gowan said all that is hiding what's really at issue.

"The bottom line here is we're talking revenue loss,' he said.

`Why should we be subsidising a private entity when we have all this,' Gowan said. "The Internet is here now. Let's not reinvent the wheel.'

The measure still needs review and approval by the House Government Committee before going to the full House.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Article comment by: two cents

Talk about chipping away at our ability to keep track of our governments activities. The GOP in this state are a bunch of hypocrites, they want transparency in the Federal government and at the same time are trying to keep the people in their own state as 'in the dark' as they can by being deceptive and only reporting what they are up to in the most vague way possible.
They aren't representing us, they are helping themselves and their wealthy supporters to taxpayer and lottery money, and they would rather not have to tell us anything.
just my two cents worth of truth

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Article comment by: GRETA small

I know many people that do not have access to a computer and I believe this is a bad idea.

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Anything to keep one in the dark,.

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Article comment by: Watchful Codger

Thanks Mary Hartman and Frank Henry I have access, but would rather read the paper.

Everybody please grab a post card send email. Tell them Print it and Post it.

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

No! The people who have the most time to read these notices are grannies and grandpas who do not all have computers. Why should they have to find a ride to the library and mess with a mouse?That is so sly. Post it and print it. That is not where public funds are being wasted.

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Article comment by: Frank Henry

Our gov (state, county, local) should be able to
post notices on the web and also via
newspapers, radio, TV.

This will give we (the citizens) multiple avenues
of receiving public notices. For there are some folks who are not in the computer environ due to
high expences in the owning and operating the
many computer type gizzmos.

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