Thwarted in his attempt to allow statutory public notices to appear on websites rather than in newspapers, a lawmaker now wants to create a state-run database of public notices that have been published in newspapers.
The president of the Arizona Newspapers Association, which vigorously opposed the original bill by Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, called his latest proposal an attempt to eventually lever public notices, such as information about public meetings and budgets, away from newspapers. Newspapers, the group argued, provide an independent review that the government can’t.
“It’s no question they’re setting it up for an easy transition,” said John Naughton, publisher of the Payson Roundup. “It’s almost laughable. It’s something that private industry has been doing for a hundred years.”
Stevens’ new proposal is in a strike-everything amendment to a bill scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Government Reform Committee. It would require a notice to be published in the “most appropriate” newspaper and then filed in a database operated by the Arizona Department of Administration.
Stevens said the amendment came out of commentary from newspaper officials and others at stakeholder meetings on his original bill, which failed in committee.
“It became very clear that we need a central repository for public notices,” he said.
Newspapers that publish public notices would be required to submit them electronically to the new database, while websites would be allowed to re-publish those notices at no charge.
Stevens said the move would be a step in the right direction from a technology standpoint, adding that it looks toward a day when newspapers will cease publishing print editions.
Naughton said it would cost upwards of $250,000 for the state to recreate the database his organization set up to make public notices available online.
“It’s going to cost them lots and lots of taxpayer money for employees … to develop websites that will only do what is already being done,” he said.
While the amendment doesn’t specify how to pay for any costs associated with creating the database, Stevens said it wouldn’t require any money from the state’s general fund. One option, he said, could be taking a sliver of the money that now goes toward publishing notices in newspapers.
“Government can do this,” he said. “For them to suggest that we’re still years away is disingenuous.”
Stevens said he just wants to provide information in public notices to as many citizens as possible.
“My goal is not to pick winners or losers,” he said. “I don’t care how it happens, just that it does.”
Examples of public notices:
• Bids for construction
• General public improvements
• Community facility improvements
• Street and highway improvements
• Increase in water or sewer rates
• Zoning ordinances
• Award of contracts
• Notice of intent to contract
• Calls for bids on district bonds
• Election of board directors