A divided Arizona House committee on Thursday gave initial approval to a pair of bills that change the way public notices are required to be published, pushing the bills forward despite strong opposition from the newspaper industry.
One bill would allow cities and towns to post their public notices online instead of paying for publication in local newspapers, something the League of Cities and Towns estimates costs nearly $2 million a year. The other changes the basic definition of publication to encompass non-print forms, including the Internet. Sponsor Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said that won’t immediately change the rules requiring newspaper publication for many other types of notices, but it sets the stage for it.
A computer technology expert, Stevens said newspapers are steadily losing circulation and allowing Internet postings should allow a greater reach for the notices, which include everything from requests for bids to foreclosures notices.
Newspaper industry representatives who testified at the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee hearing argued that having an outside entity like a newspaper publish notices puts a check on government, because otherwise important notices could be hidden on an obscure website or difficult to find.
“You cannot trust the fox to guard the henhouse on this,” said Jonathan Paton, a former state senator who now represents Wick Communications, publisher of several papers in southern Arizona.
Other publishers, like Tom Arviso Jr. of the Navajo Times, said many people in rural areas don’t have computers or Internet access and rely on the paper to get all their news, including legal notices.
But he and others acknowledged they would be badly hurt by the revenue loss. Manuel Coppola, publisher of the Nogales International, said it amounts to 25 percent of the paper’s revenue and staff cuts would likely be needed if that were lost.
Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, challenged Paton on the costs to papers.
“If we’re talking revenue loss, let’s not beat around the bush,” he said. “Let’s talk about why should we be subsidizing a print entity when we have this other stuff,” like the Internet.
But Democratic Rep. Lisa Otondo, of Yuma, pushed back, saying the local newspaper is essential to her region and she would not vote for a bill that damaged it so badly.
Both bills now go to the full House after a routine legal review. Similar bills in recent years have repeatedly failed to win passage.