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AZ House delays bill on newspaper public notices

Republicans and Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives are forming a rare alliance aimed at protecting small newspapers and government transparency.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle had harsh words Tuesday for legislation that would allow some cities and towns to post public notices online instead of in paid newspaper notices. Communities with populations smaller than 100,000 people would still be required to publish notices in newspapers under the proposed law.

The bill moved forward in committee Tuesday before House leaders opted to delay a vote that would have sent it to the Senate for approval. It was the only bill being considered by the House Tuesday that didn’t receive a floor vote.

Critics said the measure would hurt local newspapers that depend on ad revenue and make it harder for residents to follow government business. The newspapers industry opposes the effort.

“Public notice is a fundamental right recognized by the founding fathers of our nation,” said Democratic Rep. Bruce Wheeler of Tucson.

Republican Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott said some elderly, low-income and rural residents don’t have access to computers or the Internet and would be left behind if the measure became law.

Republican leaders pushing the bill seemed shocked and agitated by the united front against the measure.

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills noted that some opponents of the measure were frequent critics of government mandates and subsidies.

He said it was unfair to require local governments to spend money to publish “absurd notices that no one even reads.” Kavanagh accused critics of the measure of backing “corporate welfare to newspapers.”

Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff suggested concerned residents set up Web alerts to follow issues being considered by local governments.

Newspaper representatives argued in committee last month 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.

Similar bills in recent years have repeatedly failed to win passage.

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