Change to newspaper legal notices now limited to one county as bill heads to governor – News & Observer

An effort to move local government notices from newspapers to government websites is now limited to Guilford County.

Legislation in the House and Senate this year sought to end requirements for government legal notices to be published in newspapers – a change that publishers say would harm “the public’s right to know.”

Under the proposal, municipal and county governments could publish required public notices on their own websites instead of in newspapers. Those notices include details about public hearings for new developments and opportunities to bid on government contracts. Supporters argued that the change would save governments money and that the newspaper legal notices aren’t widely read.

The local governments could also host other people’s legal notices on their own websites, charging attorneys and others for legally required announcements about foreclosures, seized property and other proceedings. The revenue from those ads would fund teacher-pay supplements.

A version of the bill that limited the website-only publication option to four urban counties was voted down in the House Finance Committee on Thursday morning. But the legislation was resurrected late Wednesday night when it was tacked onto a final House and Senate compromise version of a bill addressing worker’s compensation issues.

That final version would limit the website-only option to Guilford County and its municipalities. Guilford is the home of Republican Sen. Trudy Wade, who sponsored the original bill. The bill passed the Senate in a 32-14 vote, and it passed the House a few minutes later in a 63-50 vote, sending the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Some Democrats said the Guilford-only provision is intended to target a single newspaper that’s been critical of Wade.

“This is not a pilot program, this is a target program,” said Rep. Amos Quick, a Greensboro Democrat. “The target is the News & Record newspaper of my hometown, Greensboro.”

The final version also changes the requirements governing which newspapers can publish legal notices, prompting concerns from the N.C. Press Association.

The new requirements appear to allow local governments to use a statewide newspaper, such as the North State Journal, instead of local newspapers, by eliminating a requirement that the newspaper have its postal permit in the county where the local government is located.

“Getting rid of the postal requirement is what will allow any so-called statewide newspaper to go from county to county and take legal notices,” Press Association executive director Phil Lucey said.

The North State Journal is published by Neal Robbins, a former staffer in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, is an investor in the paper’s parent company, according to Burr’s ethics filings.

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