If you haven’t heard, the Florida Legislature is attempting to abolish the requirement that governmental agencies publish legal notices in newspapers, which 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 7, is scheduled to be heard by the full House today.
This bill flips public notice on its head by reducing government transparency. Putting legal notices on government websites means very few Florida citizens will ever read them. Public notices, along with public meetings and public records, have been part of our nation’s commitment to open government since the founding of the republic.
And I believe the bill takes a step backwards by placing these notices on government websites.
The Florida Press Association has a comprehensive website that places all of the notices under one umbrella. It’s called floridapublicnotices.com. We have invested hundreds of thousands to build this website. We have over 32,000 registered users and over 70,000 monthly page views, in addition to the notices in the newspapers and their websites. And it’s free for the public to use. Why reinvent the wheel now?
If this bill is passed, city and county governments will be required to recreate the same infrastructure, which will not be cheap. In fact, the promised savings may not be there. Nor will the audience — without a major investment in marketing to direct citizens to what would be hundreds of government websites.
Despite what you read and hear, media companies are alive and well. Our weekly newspapers are growing, and our dailies are growing digital subscriptions and page views.
Newspapers in Florida reach 7.5 million readers in any given week, and our websites typically reach more audiences than most city or county websites. They draw a minimum of 58 million unique online users in any given month.
By moving notices to government websites, not only would you reduce their reach; you also lose the active and well-informed citizen. These are people who read often and find notices while staying current with other community news.
While this bill claims to save cities and counties money, the unintended consequence is that notices will lose both readership and the legally important third-party verification.
Placing notices in newspapers — in print and online — provides a verifiable public record through sworn required affidavits of publication. Does the government really want to take on this responsibility of residents not being properly notified?
Let’s keep Florida transparent and informed. Please feel free to call your local legislator to share your voice before it’s too late.
Jim Fogler is the president and CEO of the Florida Press Association.