Media news: Senate committee kills public notice legislation

A State Senate committee effectively killed legislation that would have taken public notices out of newspapers.

newspaperThe Senate Committee on Local Government voted 12-3 on Tuesday to “pass by indefinitely” Sen. Ralph K. Smith’s SB 472, which would have given localities the option to advertise legal notices on their website or on radio and television stations.

Voting against passing the bill by indefinitely were Smith, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Augusta; and Sen. Thomas A. Garrett, R-Louisa. Hanger and Garrett were not present for the end of the hearing, but voted by proxy.

Smith said his bill would “remove the unfunded mandate on localities that they publish legal notices only in newspapers.”

Sen. David W. Marsden, D-Fairfax, countered that it would be beneficial to keep notices in one place where the public can count on finding them and that should “be the local newspaper.”

Representatives from the Virginia Association of Counties, the town of Leesburg, Roanoke County and the cities of Portsmouth and Newport News spoke in favor of the bill.

This is the second public notice bill defeated during the 2014 General Assembly session. There are currently no more bills attempting to take legal notices out of newspapers.

The Virginia Press Association led the charge in opposition of the bill. Association Executive Director Ginger Stanley was joined at the meeting by six newspaper publishers – Terry Jamerson, Roanoke Times; Alton Brown, Lynchburg News & Advance; Lawrence McConnell, The Daily Progress; Greg Pearson, Chesterfield Observer; Matt Paxton, The News-Gazette; and Paul Fletcher, Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

“The authenticity and permanence of a printed newspaper helps meet the essential obligation that public notices are legal documents in a court of law,” Stanley said. “This means that local control should not be an option when it comes to government information and the watchdog role that the press provides is essential to good and open government at all levels.”

Paxton told the panel that current law does not prohibit localities from posting legal notices on their websites, or buying air time on radio or television.

“This is a bill looking for a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said, noting that his paper’s legal advertisement rate is the lowest ad rate it has.

Sen. Stephen H. Martin, R-Chesterfield, was relentless in his opposition to the bill. He noted that in his district’s rural areas, some people don’t use email.

“You are talking about these things that are so very important for our citizens to know about – so important that we put it in law that localities give notice – then we’re going to say that the notice is sufficient to put on the Internet that most citizens don’t even have access to,” he said.

– News from Virginia Press Association

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