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Public notices too important to be changed in haste, publisher says

Public notices are too important to Arizonans’ right to know and the way they access essential information for lawmakers to act hastily in altering requirements that they run in newspapers, a publisher said Feb. 10.

“A decision to change something that has been a staple to our democracy should not be changed without an opportunity for all the parties affected to discuss this,” Ginger Lamb, vice president and publisher of the Arizona Capitol Times, told the House Commerce Committee. “It’s a very complex issue … and it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The committee unanimously endorsed H2302, which would establish a committee to mull over the most cost efficient and effective ways to inform citizens of legal matters and submit recommendations by late 2012.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Russell Jones, a Yuma Republican, told the committee that with more constituents turning to online media it’s important to examine new ways to get information to them.

“I felt it was time that we sat down and had that discussion, try some models and test some theories and see how best to serve our constituents,” he said.

Under current statutes, new ordinances, financial statements, requests for proposals and other such documents must run in a widely read local paper for a specified number of days.

Lamb, the Arizona Newspapers Association’s government and public policy chairwoman, said the committee proposed by H2302 is the best approach to evaluating public notices because there are hundreds of rules on what must be published and many parties with a stake in the outcome.

“It’s a process that Arizona newspapers take very seriously, and the public takes that responsibility seriously too,” she said.

Public notices, also known as legal notices or legal ads, accounted for between 5 and 10 percent of newspaper advertising revenue in 2000, according to a report by the National Newspaper Association.

Brian Tassenari, a lobbyist representing Lake Havasu City, spoke against the bill, saying he wants lawmakers to first consider another measure that would dramatically scale back the official information governments would have run in advertisements and let them carry the details on their Web sites.

Citing data from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, he noted that municipalities collectively spend nearly $1 million a year on public notices

“What the newspaper association calls ad revenue we call taxpayer money,” he said. “We want to spend it as wisely as possible.”

H2244, sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, also would lift newspaper publishing requirements for businesses and instead have the Arizona Corporation Commission’s Web site carry those notices. That bill has yet to be heard in committee.

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Andy Tobin, a Paulden Republican, would allow municipalities and counties to post details of their budgets on their Web sites while having newspapers publish only a summary of estimated expenditures and revenues alongside the Web address. Right now, those entities’ entire budgets must be run in newspapers.

H2423 won a committee endorsement and was headed to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Jones said that if passed, Tobin’s bill would serve as a “model” or “proof of concept” to be used when considering how to handle other public notice requirements.

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