Once again, the Florida Legislature is considering bills that would result in a less informed public and less government accountability. These bills would allow local governments and private parties to provide notice about government meetings, zoning changes and legal proceedings on obscure government websites — rather than in local newspapers and on the state-wide website at floridapublicnotices.com.
The Florida Press Association, First Amendment Foundation, TaxWatch and others have opposed this direction and last year, a compromise was eventually agreed to by all sides. We thought it was fair resolution because it increased online access and expanded the types of newspapers where the public can find the notices.
But this year, the House came back with the same previously discarded government website bill that would be detrimental to the public and smaller newspapers, and the fight began all over again. HB 7049 passed the House, and it is up to the Senate now to make up a similar bill or allow the House bill to expire.
We strongly urge the Senate to move on to more serious issues and let this bill die. Why? Newspapers have played a vital role in providing transparency about government through the publication of public notices. It’s worked for more than 100 years.
Now, with the digital reach of newspapers through their websites and the statewide public notice site run by Florida newspapers, notifying the public has never been more efficient, effective and impactful. Posting notices to newspaper websites and the statewide site adds no additional cost or fat to government and provides greater public access to public notices. Newspapers also serve an important role as a permanent record of public notices.
Placing notices on government websites will be costly for governments to implement, reduce transparency and result in conflicts of interest. The House bill would allow governments to replace valuable services currently provided by private party newspapers for intake, review, publication and verification. Above all, it will be bad for Florida citizens because it will make it harder to find out about the activities of their government.
The Legislature, when considering the bill last year, suggested it wanted more competition, more online access and a better system for public notices. The parties worked together to implement the new law to address those policy goals. Now all that work is at risk.
HB 7049 will require local governments in smaller counties (those with less than 160,000 people) to have a public hearing to determine that internet publication is sufficient by broadband or “other means.” In other words, it allows counties to reject publishing notices in newspapers and online notices, and to post notices only on a government-controlled website. This is a terrible bill for transparency and accountability of government, and we urge the Senate to let this bill die.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Pamela C. Marsh is executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.