Legislation that would change requirements on publishing legal notices cleared its final Senate committee. And for the first time, language received support from the Florida Press Association.
Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the measure (SB 402) eliminates a long-standing restriction for notices to exclusively appear in subscription-rich newspapers.
“It should open the market,” he said.
Dropping the demand government publish notices in a community newspaper of record has enjoyed House support for years. The companion legislation (HB 35) already passed in the lower chamber more than a month ago.
The Senate, however, has greeted such a change with skepticism, and that continued this Session.
In fact, the legislation nearly died at its last committee stop, but Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, supported the bill in a 5-3 vote in the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee only after Rodrigues committed to working out certain problems raised by the Florida Press Club.
Over the weekend, Rodrigues, Brandes and Sen. George Gainer, a Panhandle Republican, worked with the Florida Press Association on the legislation. They developed changes including a threshold for papers with less than 75% of revenue coming from advertising to be eligible for notices.
There were exceptions put in place making sure notices must appear in print in rural areas.
“Internet service in small rural areas in Florida is shoddy at best,” said Emerald Greene, a Madison publisher for small papers covering five counties in North Florida.
Sen. Bobby Powell asked how the legislation would impact minority papers. Rodrigues said he believes more will now be eligible for notices.
Along the way, Rodrigues dropped a plan to tie the bill to a funding mechanism for a statewide database of financial obligations for felons who want their voting rights restored.
The law right now requires public notices for actions by cities, counties, school board and taxing districts for decisions on land use, infrastructure plans and changes to ordinances. As statute reads now, those notices must be published in print newspapers that hold a periodical permit with the U.S. Post Office.
That may have served as the best way to notice the public in a pre-electronic communication age, but in a post-internet world, critics say that creates a monopoly for print media. Rodrigues’ bill would allow notices to be published through online publications and on the statewide legal notice website: www.FloridaPublicNotices.com.