The actions of government may become harder to keep track of for the citizens of 10 North Carolina counties thanks to new legislation passed by the majority of senate Republicans in the General Assembly on Monday.
Senate Bill 287, subtitled “Notice Publication by Some Local Govs.,” allows local governments to end the longstanding practice of publishing notices of its actions in the community’s newspaper and, instead, provides an avenue of publication on the government’s own website. The bill narrowly passed the senate and will soon be voted on in the House chambers.
Lincoln County is not one of the 10 counties affected by the bill but, if the bill is adopted by the N.C. House in an upcoming vote and then signed into law, we could be next.
A better alternative has been introduced into the House as House Bill 723, “Legal Notices/Require Internet Publication.” The House bill requires newspapers to publish legal notices in a prominent place on the front page of its website at no extra charge to government bodies, in addition to traditional print publication. House Bill 723 would save taxpayer money by providing free internet advertising to government bodies and it would increase the reach of the legal notice.
S.B. 287 passed the Senate 26-23 with all but six Republicans voting “Yes.” Sen. David Curtis of the state’s 44th District, which includes Lincoln County, was one of the supporting votes.
It’s no secret that newspapers profit from the paid publication of legal notices. But newspapers were chosen for this task for a reason.
The local newspaper has been, and will continue to be, the best source for information about the activities of government and the community as a whole. That’s the reason government passed legislation requiring the publication of legal notices in the local paper in the first place — our reach extends far beyond that of an indecipherable government website.
Government should be becoming more transparent, not less. This bill would allow important information like public hearings and zoning changes to potentially be buried on government websites in places that are impossible to find.
The motives of any politician supporting a clampdown on the flow of information from the government to the public should be questioned, and citizens should take notice and vote accordingly in the next election.
The Lincoln Times-News and the North Carolina Press Association support House Bill 723 and we urge our readers to contact Sen. Curtis and District 97 Rep. Jason Saine and demand that they do the same.