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Kavanagh bill: An assault on transparency and the people’s right to know

Ginger Lamb (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Ginger Lamb (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Here we go again.

For the eighth year in a row, the Legislature has once again introduced a bill to eliminate public notices in newspapers.

This time it is sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh and targets corporate publication. He says this is about bringing newspapers into the 21st century and giving the public access.

Let’s set the record straight — this bill is an assault on transparency and your right to be notified of important information, all while promoting the growth of government bureaucracy at the expense of local Arizona jobs and businesses.

• Newspapers are in the 21st century — we have websites, searchable databases, apps and responsive websites.

• There is a difference between public access and public notice. Public access is not public notice.

What is most perplexing about this proposed legislation is that this is the same John Kavanagh who, when he was running for re-election in 2010, said he was “a limited government, fiscal conservative.” Yes, he has been a staunch supporter of differentiating between the government and private sector and ensuring that the government doesn’t step on the business community.

So why does HB2554 (business entities; publication; posting requirements) do exactly that?

It would remove an important private function from newspapers and let the government have complete control. Kavanagh is proposing taxpayer dollars be spent to create a database that would expand government at the expense of private businesses that are already performing this service. It would cost our local community jobs — and not just jobs at newspapers. The bill would have an economic domino effect, eliminating jobs in other industries, like couriers and printers. And, there are ramifications beyond that to the state.

If something isn’t working, there is a need to run a bill to fix it. But this is a system that works.

At the Arizona Capitol Times, we publish corporate documents. And, since 1999 when a bill was dropped to eliminate corporate publication requirements we shifted our model to include online posting. All corporate notices that we publish are uploaded to publicnotices.azcapitoltimes.com (our searchable database with Google mapping and other tools for analysis) and to PublicNoticeAds.com — a statewide website created 15 years ago when the first bill was dropped to eliminate these requirements. At that time, Arizona Newspapers Association was the first association in the country to create such a database, which is now home to public notices for 11 other states as well.

The business community is not asking for this change. In fact, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Arizona Small Business Association are all opposed to this bill.

Public notice is public policy. It dates back to the founding of our republic and the first session of Congress in 1789. At that time, there was a mandate to publish all congressional bills and votes in newspapers because they are recognized as a reliable and trusted source of public information.

In our state, the publication requirements predate statehood. When the Capitol was in Prescott, we had the Arizona Territorial Revised Statutes of 1901. This document required every new corporation to publish its articles of incorporation in a newspaper. The intent of the Legislature was quite clear — that Arizonans needed to be informed of government and corporate activity and newspapers were the best place to distribute this information.

HB2554 would appropriate $65,000 to the Arizona Corporation Commission to create a database. A couple of years ago $250K was appropriated to modernize the current ACC website Starpas. Twice, the commission delayed launching the new website and over this past summer scrapped the plans and put out a formal Request for Information in order to fix the system. If the commission couldn’t get this done with $250K, how can this now be done with only $65K?

Under the bill, the commission would be required to post the notices for only 90 days.

And then what? How does that constitute public notice?

Public access is not public notice. Public access is the right of Arizonans to have unfettered access to important information. Public notices are mandated by our Legislature to ensure there is transparency surrounding the activities of governments, officers of the court and others holding a public trust (Public Notice Resource Center). HB2554 eliminates notice and would require Arizona residents to proactively, without announcement, search for the information which would not even be available after 90 days.

Newspapers already provide this service with no cost to the taxpayers and have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and maintain it — offering a free completely searchable, archived statewide database for all Arizonans.

So is this bill really necessary? Absolutely not!

— Ginger Lamb is publisher of the Arizona Capitol Times

 

One comment

  1. Ginger Lamb’s guest column opposing my public business notice reform bill was based upon mistaken arguments preceded by an irrelevant ad hominem attack against me. The column argues that my bill unnecessarily takes a role performed by the private sector and gives it to government. Actually, my bill eliminates the publication of unnecessary newspaper ads announcing new business formations and transfers that task to no one.

    Arizona’s current legal requirements for posting printed public notices in newspapers of new business startups creates needless work and publication expenses for new business startups, makes it outrageously time consuming and expensive for citizens to find the notices and makes it too easy for a business to inadvertently or purposely conceal its printed notice’s location. Finding printed public notices in Arizona newspapers is like playing “Where’s Waldo” on a statewide basis. The only ones who benefit are the newspapers that rake in advertising revenue.

    Nonsensically, the newspaper chosen does not have to be anywhere near the business’ location (just in the same county) and can have a minuscule circulation. For example, a business starting in Gila River can comply with current law by purchasing print ad space in The Arizona City Independent of Arizona City, a weekly paper 90 miles and a 2 hour drive away with a anemic circulation of 568. A new business in Tuba City can legally post its ad in the Southern Utah News of Kanab, Utah, a mere 150 miles and 2½ hours away that is located out of state!

    In addition, newspaper print ads are not timely. A business does not have to post its ad for two months after approval. In addition, in order to monitor all of the possible newspapers where a business print ad could legally appear, a citizen would have to subscribe to 80 Arizona and Nevada newspapers at an expense of thousands of dollars per year.

    Unlike Arizona’s state government, these newspapers come and go and are under no obligation to safely archive their ads, especially after they go out of business. This is important because, nation-wide, newspapers are failing at historically high rates due to the Internet and the public’s changing media viewing habits. Today’s newspaper archive may be tomorrow’s landfill compost.

    To her credit, Ms. Lamb did not argue that eliminating ads would be economically harmful to newspapers but some do argue that. While that may be true, it’s not government’s job to support one class of business by making all businesses purchase their unnecessary and unwanted products. Using that “harmful to the bottom line of newspapers” logic, car manufacturers would be required to include a buggy whip in the trunk of every new car.

    My bill, HB2554, addresses these problems. Under its provisions, the Arizona Corporation Commission, at no cost to businesses, will post new business notices automatically on its website within 5 days of the filings approval. The notices will be digitally searchable by business name, location and date of application.

    My bill does not change any of the print ad requirements for cities, towns, counties, districts, courts, state government or any government entities. It recognizes the needs of citizens without Internet service to view printed public notices concerning government meetings, budgets, etc. in their local newspapers.

    HB2554 simply replaces costly, time consuming and often impossible to locate newspaper print ads, which are of little interest to the average person, with free postings on a permanent, timely, less time consuming, digitally searchable web-based system maintained by the Arizona Corporation Commission on their easily located website.

    With about six to seven thousand of theses adds needing to be advertised per month, my bill will save the private sector about $6,000 million per year. That’s an economic stimulus.

    Finally, if having these notices appear in print is so important, why do only five other states require the printing of newspaper ads of all business startups or changes to their board?

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