Legal notices in Florida may soon be featured online under a bill lawmakers cleared Thursday.
The House voted 105-9 to pass the bill (HB 53), marking the end of a legislative tug-of-war over the legislation. That followed a unanimous vote in the Senate Thursday morning.
Republicans Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County and Sen. Ray Rodrigues of Fort Myers are sponsoring the legislation.
The bill expands state law to allow legal notices to be posted online as well as in a local newspaper.
Legal notices are public alerts on fiscal and other matters for cities, counties, school districts and special taxing districts. They cover infrastructure plans, changes in land use and other ordinances.
“If there’s anything we learned during the pandemic, it is we are migrating to an online world,” Rodrigues said. “In areas that have the access to do that, we’re going to see more of that. And by expanding competition, we’re going to see governments paying less.”
Originally, the bill sought to remove the newspaper requirement all together.
The provision, however, garnered staunch opposition from many, including the Florida Press Association and former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. Legal notices are a historical source of revenue for newspapers.
Kottkamp, representing the American Lawyer Media Group, spoke out against the original draft. He contended the bill would move legal notice law backwards, leaving out elderly and minority communities.
“Local governments will continue, if they so choose, to print them. They will now be able to put them online,” Fine told House members. “Local newspapers will be able to continue to compete for public notices, but many newspapers around the state will also be able to compete.”
Speaking on the floor Thursday, Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who opposed the bill as originally drafted, applauded the sponsor for achieving the “right balance.”
“The goal here is to provide the broadest amount of access we can in a reasonable location and ultimately ensure that people, for example, who are contractors, have a single source to go to to get their information,” Brandes said.
In the House, Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller applauded the bill as a compromise.
If signed into law, notices would be published through online publications and on the statewide legal notice website: www.FloridaPublicNotices.com.
The bill would take effect July 1 if signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The 2021 Legislative Session ends Friday.