Lawmaker wants end to print publication of legal notices

By Marilyn Tennissen | Feb 12, 2013

If a Texas lawmaker is successful, one of the remaining revenue sources for newspapers will disappear.

Freshman state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, wants to end the practice of requiring legal notices to be posted in local newspapers.

Stickland claims House Bill 335 could save Texas taxpayers millions of dollars by allowing counties, cities, school districts and other political subdivisions to post public notices on Internet web sites instead of buying advertising space in newspapers.

“The law that requires public notices to be printed in a newspaper made sense back in the horse and buggy days when newspapers were the only form of mass communication and most people subscribed to a newspaper,” Stickland said.  “But in the 21st Century, that requirement amounts to nothing but a taxpayer subsidy for the companies that own newspapers and it needs to go the way of the horse and buggy.”

Not surprisingly, the newspaper industry is fighting back and has organized “Keep Texas Notified.”

According to its website, Keep Texas Notified is a “non-partisan, broad-based coalition with a common goal of protecting the public’s right to know how government activities affect their lives and pocketbooks.”

The website is funded by the Texas Press Association and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association.

But the group also has support from civil rights groups -- like AARP, ACLU and the League of United Latin American Citizens -- who see the printed notices as examples of transparency and open government.

“There is an ongoing effort to take published public notice out of newspapers and give control over the notice publication to local governments," according to the Keep Texas Notified website. "These changes to the public notice laws will result in reduced transparency, open government protections, and oversight.”

Stickland, however, cites a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2012 that showed only 23 percent of Americans read a print newspaper the previous day.

“When surveys ask people where they get their news, whether it’s from television, radio, Internet or newspapers, newspapers now come in dead last.  But that’s where the law, vehemently defended by newspaper corporate lobbyists, requires taxpayers to buy ads.  We’d reach more of the public by putting ads on milk cartons than in newspapers,” Stickland said.

He said “as a conservative Republican, however, I’m interested in cutting government waste, not defending it.”

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