by Sam Hieb
Rockingham County Reps. Kyle Hall and Bert Jones have have sponsored legislation that would allow Rockingham County to publish legal notices on its website instead of in the local newspaper. Neighboring Guilford County recently began publishing legal notices on its website following passage of a bill sponsored by Sen.Trudy Wade allowing it to do so back in October.
As you can imagine, the newspaper industry vociferously opposes such bills:
HB990 would affect the RockinghamNow publication of BH Media Group, which owns the Winston-Salem Journal and News & Record of Greensboro. RockinghamNow serves the Eden, Mayodan and Reidsville communities as a News & Record outlet.
“We believe the law that was passed last year is problematic, and we remain opposed to the idea that government bodies should have control of the way they notify the public about the business of the government,” said Daniel Finnegan, editor and publisher of the News & Record.
Finnegan said other BH Media Group properties in the state are following developments with Guilford’s implementation of the law and the introduction of HB990.
“Public notices are one of the few ways that government is required to communicate with citizens, and giving government control of the process is a threat to transparency and open government,” Finnegan said.
Finnegan said the sponsors of HB990 may be introducing the legislation inappropriately in the short session.
“My understanding is that the General Assembly is not supposed to take up new legislation in the short session unless it is directly related to the budget or it passed the ‘house of origin’ the previous year,” Finnegan said.
JLF’s own Mitch Kokai offers his thoughts at the end of the Winston-Salem Journal write-up, saying “multiple state lawmakers have concerns about forcing local taxpayers to subsidize the newspaper industry.” As for concerns that citizens will be out of the loop on legal notices if they aren’t published in the newspaper–next time you’re in a group of people, ask who stills walk out to their sidewalk very morning and pick up their print edition. I still do— though I often wonder why—but the number who don’t still blows me away.