General Assembly passes amended HB 351 with language on Public Notice Advertising

Two years ago, when it adopted the state budget through June 30, 2020, the legislature took a different approach on Public Notice Advertising. Since it had not been successful in moving legislation that would allow all local government agencies to use their websites for public notices as opposed to publishing those in newspapers, language was inserted deep into the budget bill that became law. But it sunsets on June 30, 2020.

That language made permission of using local government websites as the vehicle but only for counties with a population of 90,000 or more. That made the language effective for only eight of the 120 counties — Jefferson, Fayette, Boone, Kenton, Campbell, Daviess, Warren and Hardin. For the other 112, public notices were required to be published in newspapers as they have been for well over 100 years.

More legislation was considered during the 2020 session — allowing all local government agencies to use the website process instead of newspaper publication. One of those was the original House Bill 195 that was then amended to language similar to what had been in the state budget, but lowering the threshold to counties with a population of 80,000 or more. That number would have brought in two more counties — Bullitt and Madison — meaning 10 counties would have local governments publishing notices on their websites.

That language, pieced together by the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Association of Counties, and Kentucky Press Association, made it through the House by a fairly narrow vote and then on to Senate. It was approved also by a small majority in the Senate and then sent to Gov. Andy Beshear. In the meantime, House Bill 351, the “Revenue Bill,” was being considered in the House. There, members heard from sponsor Rep. Steven Rudy that the bill would allow cities and counties to publish their notices on their own websites instead of in newspapers. It was basically the original HB 195. Despite objections from several members, mostly Democrats, the bill passed and headed to the Senate.

It was met a cool reception and the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee began making changes. The House wouldn’t go along with the changes so HB 351 was sent to a Free Conference Committee. There, members could rewrite the bill entirely, make changes as it desired and then get the message to the House and Senate members that it’s all agreed-to language.

In the Free Conference Committee, Senate co-chair Sen. Chris McDaniel announced that the sections dealing with public notice advertising were being stripped from the language.

You would assume that was in response to the success of House Bill 195 being approved by both chambers. But soon after Senator McDaniel’s announcement came news that caused angst among newspapers and those involved in HB 195.

Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed House Bill 195. That could result in the chambers overriding the veto to keep the language in place or it could mean changes in HB 351 incorporating changes to public notices.

The governor’s veto message was well-reasoned, well-written but what the veto would lead to remained to be seen. Here’s his veto message:

GOVERNOR BESHEAR VETOS HB 195

We expected the House and Senate to take up discussion on Wednesday of overriding the veto of HB 195. That never happened so attention turned to House Bill 351 where language could be inserted to address the issue.

What the legislature approved was basically a repeat of 2018 legislation, limiting the public notice advertising language to counties with a population of 90,000 or more. So that reverts to the original eight counties from two years ago.

But the legislature also inserted one paragraph that’s probably aimed at showing publishing public notices in newspapers is, in the words of several legislators, “costly and takes away taxpayer dollars from other projects.”

That paragraph reads:

Any advertisement required to be published in a newspaper under KRS Chapter 424 shall contain the following statement at the end of the advertisement:
“This advertisement was paid for by [insert the name of the governmental body required to advertise in a newspaper] using taxpayer dollars in the amount of $[insert the amount paid for the advertisement].

That is an unfair one-sided requirement realizing that in some cases — think publication of the delinquent tax list — the county is reimbursed for the cost when people pay their delinquent taxes. $5 per name is added to the bill each time a person’s name appears. Cities were given the same publication opportunity many years ago but not many cities take advantage of the “may publish” since it’s permitted but not required to publish the list. There are some other notices that the agency can eventually receive reimbursement.

The bill now sits before Governor Beshear. He can sign it or he can veto it. It’s uncertain whether he can use his line item veto power that’s permitted in the state budget bill (House Bill 352).

The General Assembly is off until Monday, April 13, when it returns for what’s called the “veto override session.” The 2020 60-day session must end by April 15 as established in the state’s constitution.

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