Newspaper legal notices remain alive

Published 10:20 am Sunday, March 29, 2015


The Goldsboro News Argus

RALEIGH — A bill under consideration in the Legislature would still require local governments to publish legal notices in newspapers but would force newspapers to give them a discount on second publication and make the notices free and easy to find online.

“I think this is a reasonable compromise that allows us to plan for the future, and the future is coming,” said Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, one of the co-sponsors of the Senate Bill 129, at a press conference held March 17 on the measure.

Municipal and county officials say the existing requirement is outdated and that posting such notices on their websites would be sufficient public notice. Their supporters have introduced a measure that would do away with the requirement to have legal notices published in print.

That would keep many people who do not have Internet access from being able to read the notices, newspaper supporters say.

“In my opinion, until everyone has that option available to them, we must still get the word out, and I think this bill will do that,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, who represents three mountain counties. “I think this bill protects the public and the media.”

“We would all like to have high speed Internet, we would all like to access records immediately,” he said, “but some folks don’t have that ability. Until everyone has that opportunity available to them, for high speed Internet, we must still do certain things to get news out and I think this bill will accomplish that.”

“We need to keep all lines of communication open,” said Rep. Marilyn Avila of Wake County, who said the country is in a transitional phase in which many people do not yet have the means to keep up digitally.

“I don’t think it is our job to limit in any way, or hide, by default, the information the citizens need about what their government is doing,” she said.

Sen. Norman Sanderson, who represents Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties, is one of the primary sponsors of the bill.

“To me this is and always has been a point of transparency,” he said. “Those of us who have been elected to serve the public, we have a responsibility to inform the public about what we are doing.”

Sanderson said that technology is headed toward a day when all notices will be published digitally but that to move too quickly in that direction would be to “disenfranchise” a large portion of the public.

Rep. Chris Malone of Wake County is another sponsor in the House.

“Yes, I think one day we will be able to go electronically,” he said. “But we’re nowhere near that right now. People like to read their newspapers. … They need to know that information and they have a right to it.”

Senate Bill 129 and House Bill 156 call for newspapers to provide a 15 percent discount when notices have to be published more than once. And notices must be placed on the newspaper’s website the same day it appears in print, at no additional charge. A hyperlink to notices would be placed on the newspaper’s homepage at no charge. Notices have to be prominent and “present the legal notices as the dominant subject matter of those pages.”

House Bill 156 cleared the Judiciary III Committee earlier this week and is scheduled to go to the floor of the Chamber for a full vote on Monday night (March 30).

(Editor’s Note: The Goldsboro News-Argus served as the “pool reporter” at the press conference for members of the North Carolina Press Association unable to attend the event.)