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Proposal for public notices committee clears House

The state House passed a bill March 3 that would establish a committee to examine the most cost efficient and effective ways for local governments to publish legal notices as required by statute.

Rep. Russ Jones, a Yuma Republican and sponsor of H2302, said that counties and municipalities have grown concerned about the expense of complying with current laws mandating that public notices run in local newspapers’ print editions when posting them online would be cheaper.

Jones’ bill, which passed on a 41-19 vote and is headed to the Senate, requires the committee to make its recommendations by November 2011.

“Hopefully next year we’ll be able to put together some legislation that begins to modify how we keep the public informed and maintain our responsibility to transparent and open government and do it but do it more cost effectively,” Jones said.

A survey by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns found that municipalities collectively spent nearly $1 million on public notices in 2009.

Jones’ bill is one of three measures introduced to address public notice requirements.

Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, failed to win committee approval for H2244, which would immediately and significantly rolled back public notice publication requirements. Biggs’ bill would have allowed publication of much shorter notices listing the subject matter and a Web address and would have moved legal ads by private businesses entirely online.

H2423, sponsored by Paulden Republican Rep. Andy Tobin, would modify annual budget publication requirements to allow a newspaper ad summarizing revenue and expenses and pointing to where a reader can find the full text online or in a library. That bill won House approval and was awaiting action in the Senate.

Republicans cast all of the votes against Jones’ bill.

Rep. Nancy Barto, a Phoenix Republican, said she voted no because she thinks a committee is unnecessary.

“The only purpose of a study committee would be to slow down the inevitable,” she said. “We should enact this shift now, not in a few years, so that beneficiaries of the current policy won’t be affected for a few more years.”

In an e-mail statement on behalf of the Arizona Newspapers Association, which lobbied for the committee, a newspaper executive said a hard look is in order because of the intricacy of public notice laws and what she called the importance of having a third party provide the information to the public.

“The study committee will provide an opportunity … to discuss the complexity of this issue, the public’s access to important government information and efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” said Ginger Lamb, vice president and publisher of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Jones agreed.

“I’m not in favor of throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

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