Senate Judiciary Committee in Florida approves legislation that would harm public notice in the state


By a vote of 8-3, the Florida Senate’s Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to send legislation to the Senate floor that — if approved — would authorize legal notifications in Florida, in certain cases, to be published on a website established by the Supreme Court, in lieu of newspaper publication. SB 402 also specifies that website publication constitutes proof of publication, unless otherwise determined by a court. 

In addition, the bill authorizes that a county may publish the legal notification in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the county in lieu of website publication; however, the fee charged by the newspaper for publication may not exceed the website publication fee established by the Supreme Court. Read the text of the bill here.

A different version of the bill passed last week in the Florida House. House Bill 35 would repeal a part of current Florida law that requires certain public notices — tax increases, special elections, etc. — to be published in print newspapers. Those notices provide Florida’s more than 100 newspapers with millions of dollars in revenue every year.

Dean Ridings, CEO of America's Newspapers, said: "The need for transparency in government is clear, and public notice in newspapers is still the most effective and proactive mechanism to inform a community about the actions of their government. It may be cheaper for cities to post notices to their own website, but the small cost to post notices in newspapers is nothing compared to the value of the notices being seen by the community. The actions of some in the Florida legislature to eliminate notices in newspapers are misguided at best, and the punitive action to punish newspapers by removing notices when legislators don’t agree with their editorial positions harms far more than just the newspapers — it harms the public’s right to be informed."

Gerard Mulligan, publisher of the Citrus County Chronicle, said: "We are disappointed that our legislators continue to view this in political terms. Public notice is not a subsidy of dying newspapers. It is the most cost-effective way for government to fulfill its responsibility to properly notify taxpayers about pending actions and decisions. Florida newspapers in print and digital reach 8 million people every day. We are a communication bargain."

"At the same time," he said, "publishers must work with legislators — particularly the Republican leadership — to make sure they understand our opinion pages and digital platforms are open to all opinions in our communities. The political narrative has become that we suppress conservative opinion and that a great way to hurt the newspaper business is by ending the public notice function.

"Publishers need to actively demonstrate that everyone gets access to our newspapers. The politicians need to remember that public notice is a requirement for good government and not a hammer to use to get a political point across."

Paul Tash, CEO and chairman of the Tampa Bay Times, said: “Independent journalism is already under crushing pressure, and these bills would further weaken the ability of citizens to keep track of what their government is up to. Agencies could bury their agendas and ambitions on their own websites or obscure shoppers with tiny distribution. Lawmakers may be aiming at publishers, but the ultimate victims will be their own constituents.” 

In a recent editorial, Jim Fogler, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association, said the Florida Legislature's attempt to abolish the requirement that governmental agencies publish legal notices in newspapers "would push government further into the shadows and make it harder for Floridians to learn about public policy issues, make their voices heard and hold their leaders accountable. This bill, HB 35 and SB 402, would move us in the wrong direction if passed."


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