Randy Fine refiles bill nixing newspaper notice requirement

Fine's bill would allow legal notices to be delivered online or through the mail.

Rep. Randy Fine on Monday refiled legislation that would allow public notices to skip newspapers and be posted directly on government websites.

The Palm Bay Republican has made the issue a priority in recent Legislative Sessions, with his 2020 effort making it through the House but failing to get a floor vote in the Senate.

HB 35, filed for the 2021 Legislative Session, is largely the same as last year’s bill.

Current law requires state government and local government entities, such as sheriff’s departments and tax collector offices, to purchase newspaper advertising to let the public know about important deadlines, code changes or events.

One of the few exceptions to that rule is if a county doesn’t have a newspaper that’s printed at least once a week. The law is a vestigial feature of the era when newspapers were the primary means of information delivery.

The bill doesn’t ban agencies from buying newspaper ads, though it would allow for another type of print advertising: direct mail.

Under the legislation, governmental agencies would need to buy an ad once a year in a publication “delivered to all residents and property owners throughout the government’s jurisdiction” letting them know that they can register to receive public notices by email or snail mail.

As for online postings, they must be on a “publicly accessible website,” defined as “a governmental agency’s official website or other private website designated by the governmental agency for the posting of legal notices and advertisements that is accessible via the Internet.”

In past Sessions, Fine’s public notice bill has made it through the House along partisan lines, with Democrats deriding it is an attack on government in the sunshine.

Fine, meanwhile, has described the current public notice laws as a “subsidy to a dying industry” and has said online notices are more accessible because they can be viewed without paying a publisher for the privilege.

Despite success in the House, the Senate has not moved on the bill. Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters sponsored the Senate companion for the 2020 Session, but it was never heard in committee. As of Monday, no Senate companion had been filed for the 2021 bill.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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