Friday, March 19, 2021

Fla. House tries to kill legal ads, which are now essential to many newspapers; similar bills pending in other states

Paid public notices, which have become an essential piece of many newspapers' revenue as commercial advertising goes digital, are under attack again in state legislatures, which are getting an early start.

The Florida House passed a bill Thursday that would "repeal a part of current Florida law that requires certain public notices — tax increases, special elections, etc. — to be published in print newspapers," reports Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times. Those notices provide Florida’s more than 100 newspapers with millions of dollars in revenue every year."

The bill passed the House on a largely party-line vote of 85 to 34. Its companion bill is scheduled for a committee hearing next week in the Senate, where similar bills died the last two years, Wilson reports.

Bills to repeal public-notice laws have been filed in at least 10 states, the Public Notice Resource Center reported last month, identifying four crucial states: Florida, Connecticut, Missouri and South Dakota. In the latter two states, newspaper associations are supporting bills that would require public notices to be posted online. Most of the associations have sites that publish notices without charge.

The Missouri bill would relax some public-notice laws, in an attempt to forestall more damaging bills, PNRC reports. The South Dakota bill would raise fees for public notices, establish a mechanism to automatically increase rates, and increase minimum type size and line spacing for public notices.

The pressure to reduce public-notice requirements comes mainly from local governments.

Public Notice Resource Center 2-pager makes arguments.

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