Friday, March 10, 2017

Arkansas legislators' war on transparency broadens to include newspapers' public notices

UPDATE: The public-notice bill has been referred for study during the interim between legislative sessions.

The fight to keep public notices in newspapers across the United States has come to Arkansas. "HB 1836 filed late last week seeks to remove the requirement for cities and counties to publish their public notices in newspapers and allow them to post the public notices on their respective websites," the Arkansas Press Association reports in its Arkansas Publisher Weekly.

The measure comes after a host of other bills that are picking away at the state's Freedom of Information Act, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Feb. 14.

APA Executive Director Tom Larimer said in his column that the language of HB 1836 has been introduced before and the arguments against it are still the same: "Internet connectivity remains sparse in large portions of the state. Posting these public notices to a web site would disenfranchise a large chunk of Arkansas’ population." He added, "If the goal is to put public notices online, they are already online."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Karilyn Brown of Sherwood, is expected to be discussed on the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee agenda next week, APA reports. Local governments around the country are asking state legislatures to roll back public-notice requirements, arguing that the move would save money. Newspapers argue that few people read government websites.

Larimer asks, is the "small savings" from removing public notices in newspapers "worth the loss of a transparent government?" Because the notices are already online at no charge, “They’re not going to find a better bargain.”

Sunshine Week, which celebrates open government, is from March 12-18.

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