Could this be the year governments are no longer required to post public notices in newspapers?
The Florida House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation (HB 7) that would allow notices to go on city websites instead of the local paper.
“We sometimes argue like we are living in a fictional world where everyone is getting the newspaper everyday, and they can’t wait to read these notices that are in 6-point font,” said Rep. Randy Fine, the bill sponsor.
The Palm Bay Republican said governments still will need to publish notices, but moving that information online means they do so at no charge.
Critics of the move, however, say a cost will be incurred in eyeballs, as such notices go completely unnoticed.
Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat, works in private practice as a land-use attorney, and he’s seen local government chambers filled based on government notices.
“The odds all 75 or 80 people individually spotted some public notice are not slim, they are zero,” he said. “But what happens is one neighbor sees it, they go and tell people what was in the paper.”
Fine said current noticing requirements don’t make sense in the modern media landscape. Existing rules rely on community newspapers reaching the widest number of citizens, but with the rise of digital media, that’s no longer the case.
But he said it’s no longer an effective way to notify citizens because one cannot reasonably expect residents read a local paper in its printed format.
He noted in Miami-Dade County, there are 24 newspapers that legally count as qualified publications. Government only requires a notice appear in one.
Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican, said he doesn’t think governments choose to publish notices in the widest circulation publication. Instead, they will always choose the cheapest.
“Only in government do we think notices in 24 newspapers is more efficient than push notifications,” he said.
A number of publishers, including some from rural areas, spoke out against the bill, saying many non-connected Floridians still rely on print publications for news.
He pointed to Pew Research Center polling that shows 83% of individuals feel public notices should be required in newspapers, and that 68% considered it unlikely they would ever see notices published on city and county websites.
Some 7.5 million Floridians read the newspaper, not to find notices but to stay informed, he said. That would be lost moving online.
Sam Morley of the Florida Press Association said newspapers have worked with lawmakers to bring requirements into the 21st Century. Notices paid for in print are provided online free of charge.
The association also established the website get FloridaPublicNotices.com to aggregate all notices in newspapers in a single place. Those online access methods are all free to consumers.
Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said his own constituency, which cares about downtown development decisions, relies heavily on newspaper notices. While Fine argued it’s “fiction” modern consumers turn to print, Diamond countered it’s not realistic to think all Floridians are tuned in online for public notices.
“The argument that nobody reads the newspaper, respectfully I just disagree,” he said. ” The idea that my neighbors are just clicking on websites to follow those issues is not how I think it is really going to happen.”
The legislation has already cleared the House Local, Federal and Veterans Subcommittee. It now heads to House State Affairs.
Sen. Joe Gruters is sponsoring companion legislation (SB 1340.) That bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has not been scheduled for a hearing.