Compromise proposed in battle over newspaper legal notices – News & Observer
State House legislators want to scale back a controversial Senate plan to end requirements for government legal notices to be published in newspapers â a change that publishers say would harm âthe publicâs right to know.â
The House Rules Committee made major changes Thursday to Senate Bill 343, which would allow municipal and county governments to 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.
The local governments could also host other peopleâs 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.
Under the House version of the bill, the online-only notices would be a âpilot program,â available only to local governments in four urban counties: Buncombe, Durham, Forsyth and Guilford. Newspapers running legal notices would need to offer discounted rates for notices required to run multiple times, and the bill also sets circulation and other criteria for newspapers to be eligible to publish notices.
âWhat weâre trying to do is advance the goals of the (Senate bill) sponsor to pass her bill, with acknowledgment that the House had a very different position,â House Rules Chairman David Lewis said, adding that he expects the Senate wonât support the Houseâs changes, setting up negotiations between the chambers.
Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, said the use of urban counties for online-only notices makes sense. âIn the urban counties, youâre going to have a lot less likelihood that people are going to read these notices in newspapers,â he said. âThat still happens a lot in rural areas.â
Blust also said he supports the new circulation requirements for newspapers that run legal notices. âIn Guilford, for some reason the little Jamestown paper suffices legally, and very few people read that,â he said. âOur objective should be to actually inform the public.â
The N.C. Press Association wasnât present at the committee meeting and didnât immediately respond to a request for comment. The group had supported an earlier legal notice proposal in the House. That bill would keep current newspaper publication requirements, but the papers would have to post notices on their websites and on a statewide notices website run by the press association, and the newspapers would have to offer a discounted rate for notices published more than once.