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Lawmakers effort to halt newspaper notices stalls

What’s become a yearly effort at the Arizona Legislature to end a requirement for governments to publish notices in newspapers has hit a major snag in the Senate.

A House bill by Republican Rep. Warren Petersen of Gilbert that would allow large cities and towns and all counties to instead post public notices online didn’t get a Senate committee hearing by a March 21 deadline, and an effort to include the language in a bill to be heard by another committee the following week was foiled.

Appropriations committee chairman Sen. Don Shooter, a Republican from Yuma, said he held the bill because it would damage newspapers.

“I just think my basic world view is that a free press is an important thing,” Shooter said. “You don’t mess with the press, you don’t mess with religion, those are things that we just shouldn’t do.”

The lack of a hearing signals the bill is probably not moving this year, but it’s always possible it could be revived. Senate President Andy Biggs has supported the publication changes.

A second bill that would have that would have limited the publication mandate and established a maximum rate for the cost of the notices failed to pass the House. It also would have required governments to post the notices in the local newspaper with the greatest circulation.

That bill began as a generic effort by Republican Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista to change the definition of publication to eliminate the term newspapers. The voluminous legislation eliminated the reference in dozens of statures that required public notices in legal disputes and other areas. Stevens said it was intended to lay the groundwork for the eventual elimination of all newspaper publication requirements, including those for civil suits and other business notices.

“There’s always next year,” Stevens said.

Both bills were fiercely opposed by the newspaper industry. Smaller newspapers could face steep revenue losses if the measures became law, prompting job losses and some publications to fold. Newspapers also argued that governments can’t be trusted to make sure the public can find notices of important actions and the practice government transparency.

“Keeping public notice in newspapers is really more of a policy issue,” said Paula Casey, executive director of the Arizona Newspapers Association. “If you ask newspapers in general, of course revenue is important, but the overriding policy of notifying the public is much, much more important than the revenue issue for newspapers.”

No other state has gone to a completely online system for notices, she said.

Stevens and Petersen said the newspaper group’s lobbying efforts, led by John Moody, were impressive.

“I was really impressed with Moody’s skills, to bring seven lobbyists into the government (committee) hearing, that was impressive,” Petersen said.

Moody simply said “I appreciate the compliment.”

Because there’s always a chance Petersen’s bill could be revived, Casey said she’s still concerned.

“I’m still holding my breath until the session’s out,” she said Friday. “I think there’s still room for mischief.”

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