A similar bill was filed in 2011, but failed to emerge from committee.
Public notices involve public spending and public policy. They’re how local governments put out requests for bids, for example. And as such, the public — the entire public — should have easy access to the information.
Throughout the history of the state, newspapers have served as the most effective watchdogs of public officials. They’re where citizens turn to see what their elected officials are up to.
Eliminating the requirement that governmental entities publish public notices in newspapers would muzzle the watchdog.
Supporters of the bill say local governments shouldn’t have to pay the cost of running those ads in print, when they can be put online for free. But that’s a specious argument; counties, for example, spend an average of 0.005 percent of their budgets on such ads.
The Texas Press Association contends the bill will reduce government transparency.
The TPA lists other reasons the bill is a bad idea:
“A majority of Texans rely on their local newspaper as the primary source of information in their community,” the Chronicle added. “This is where such vital information concerning taxpayer dollars should be placed.”
Similar bills have been considered in other states; a particularly telling incident happened in Minnesota last year. The publisher of a small-town newspaper pointed out that the sponsor of the bill wrote a weekly column for the paper; he could have simply published that column on his own legislative website, but chooses the newspaper because that’s how it will get read.
The Texas Legislature has real issues to deal with during this session. This law isn’t one of them.
- Very few citizens make it a practice to go to a governmental entity’s website to search for the legal notices; they’ve always been in the newspaper, and that’s where citizens look.
- Newspapers (including the Tyler Paper) publish legal notices both in print and online.
- Newspapers charge their lowest rates for public notices, so the real costs to governmental entities are minimal.
- Printed public notices raise awareness of important issues such as government spending, tax rates, and projects affecting traffic, infrastructure and public health.
- Restricting access to public notices to only those with internet access would be a disservice to the poor, the elderly and many in rural areas who are statistically less likely to have online capability.
Government websites can’t fill the role of newspapers.