Earlier this week, I received an email from an “analyst” in the Legislative Research Commission asking if KPA is aware of House Bill 195, what KPA’s position is on HB 195 and how would it affect newspapers.
The answers could have been “Yes,” “Very much opposed” and “Detrimental effect on newspapers.”
But the answer was much, much more than that.
“Local mandates” are regularly done by the LRC when legislation is filed that affects local government agencies. Good or bad, legislators often use this to decide their position on a bill. If it has a positive impact on the public agencies, they’re apt to vote for it. If it has a negative financial impact, then they would be more likely to vote against.
KPA’s effort is to point out the effect this would have on local newspapers even though the LRC’s mission may not be to find out how community newspapers would be affected with something like House Bill 195. And in case you’ve been out of country since January 7, House Bill 195 is legislation that would take public notices out of newspapers and let local public agencies publish those on their own website. In other words, it’s a move to let government have full control over what information is made available to the taxpaying public.
Here’s my complete response to the LRC analyst from KPA’s perspective.
“We are well aware of House Bill 195 and have met with the League of Cities and Rep. Jerry Miller to state our opposition to the legislation.
“1. We feel strongly that an independent/third party should be responsible for the public notices and not rely on any local government to have control on what is placed on a website, how it is placed or where it is placed. We have seen numerous occasions where these notices get hidden on a government website. Some have even restricted access to particular software or platform. I only use a Macintosh and have had occasions where a website software will not allow access by a Macintosh.
“2. Many public agencies involved — think small cities, the local Planning and Zoning Commission, a small municipally owned utility/water company — do not have a website. The cost to create and maintain a website is substantial. That cost is not factored into the thought of changing public notices from newspapers over to public agency control.
“3. The reason for this legislation over the years has been to get access into the digital era. Legislators and supporters believe the notices should be taken away from newspapers and put on websites. KPA is far ahead of this and since 2012, has operated kypublicnotice.com, a website that costs public agencies absolutely nothing to have all notices published on it. The notices are placed in local newspapers and then our company “scrapes” each page of the newspapers and where it finds public notices, loads that page to kypublicnotice.com. At NO additional cost to any agency. In addition, access to the site is free. No subscription is required and anyone, anywhere with internet access can find public notices on the site. These notices appear just as they were published in the newspaper so an individual can see what newspaper, and on what page, and on what date notices were published. In Kentucky, our notices on the KPA website can be accessed by selecting a county. Additionally, the public notices are word searchable, something that I doubt public agencies could accomplish without a tremendous cost.
“4. Think of the number of websites an individual would have to access under House Bill 195. As a Georgetown/Scott County resident, I would have to access at least nine different public agency websites to find out what’s going on in my local government. So do I spent hours searching all of those websites, or do I go to one source, the Georgetown News Graphic/kypublicnotice.com? The answer is obvious.
“5. A study done perhaps three years ago by the LRC’s Program Review and Investigations Committee and coordinating LRC staff, found that on average a public agency spends ONE percent of its budget on publishing these notices in local newspapers. The cost is NOT exorbitant though opponents of newspapers would have you believe that. I would be glad to furnish you a copy of the LRC staff’s own investigation into public notices. Again, this was done two/three years ago.
“6. The bottom line to newspapers is this legislation would put many community newspapers out of business. While the income is not tremendous, it is enough that after cutting more staff that the economy has already forced, a local/weekly newspaper would find itself having to close its doors. As to the income, these same small newspapers can show you that they pay more in local taxes — property taxes, payroll taxes, other local taxes — than what they receive from publishing public notices.
“7. The public does not go to government websites under most situations. They do go to newspaper websites and that’s why newspapers are also posting the public notices on their own websites, not just in the newspaper, and not just on kypublicnotice.com. I know some naysayers claim readership is at a long-time low. That’s incorrect, Circulation of newspapers has decreased but readership is actually increasing because many of those previous subscribers are instead accessing and reading the newspaper online.
“Public notices in newspapers has been the law in this country for well over 100 years. Newspapers are the independent, third party needed to ensure the local public agencies are doing as the law requires, publishing the information that is important to local residents, and where local residents know they can go to find that information. We understand younger citizens might believe the digital era is here but their concern/issue is taken care of with kypublicnotice.com. Approximately one in five Kentuckians do not have internet access so relying solely on government agencies putting notices on the internet would affect that 20 percent from knowing what its government is doing.
“I’ll be glad to make available any information you need and do invite you to go to kypublicnotice.com to see that public notices in Kentucky are already in the digital era and made available to anyone, anywhere without paying for access.