Keep Florida public notices out in plain sight | Editorial
Another sideswipe at the public’s right to know is making its way through the Florida Legislature. It won a key committee vote in the House last week, and a companion bill is due for a hearing today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This mistake should end right there.
The legislation comes wearing the fine clothes of a good idea. HB 7 and SB 1340 propose to allow Florida governments to bypass the process of publishing advance notice of their doings in local newspapers and instead post such information on websites. The argument is that this would save taxpayer dollars, and offer a paperless option that is environmentally friendly.
The bills are opposed by Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan advocate for accountability, on the grounds that removing public notices from print will restrict the number of Floridians in the know. Not surprisingly, the Florida Press Association — which has already invested in a searchable website that aggregates all notices published in Florida newspapers — is fighting the legislation for the same reason, and also because the business of providing public notices is a significant factor in local papers’ revenue streams.
This salient financial consideration means that any newspaper editorial against online-only public notices runs the risk of sounding like one of those black-and-white cows in a Chik-fil-A ad, imploring folks to “Eat Mor Chikin.”
2020欧洲杯正规平台There is no denying that the loss of this steady income would be a costly blow to local journalism. But the more compelling rationale for adhering to the status quo is that online publication is, at this point, a decidedly mixed bag when it comes to Sunshine Law compliance.
As Florida journalists and citizen activists know, some government websites are models of transparency and ease of use, while others are so obfuscating that it‘s easy to suspect an institutional preference for preventing public participation rather than enabling it.
An estimated one in four Floridians still lacks convenient online access. And a House staff analysis cited this bill’s “indeterminate fiscal impact” on local governments, which would have to invest in their own procedures if they no longer advertise in print.
2020欧洲杯正规平台These realities suggest strongly that taking public notices out of newspapers is an idea whose time has not yet come in Florida.
2020欧洲杯正规平台So why are some House members so intent on fixing what isn’t broken? After all, the Legislature has no track record of zeal for saving local governments money.
2020欧洲杯正规平台It seems likely that a clue lies in the words of the bills‘ supporters. Sponsor Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, characterized public notice revenues as “a subsidy to a dying industry.” And Blaise Ingoglia, R-Brooksville, dismissed the testimony on behalf of local newspapers, “who would not hesitate to write editorial opinion pieces on the front page, above the fold on the Sunday paper … and basically berate us for listening to special-interest groups and their concerns and lobbyists and their concerns.”
Local journalism is not dying, but it is struggling. In U.S. counties where newspapers have disappeared, voting rates have measurably dropped. Some politicians hostile to a free press may welcome, and even try to engineer, such a narrowing of the democratic process.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Their efforts should be resisted.
Barbara Peters Smith wrote this for the editorial boards of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, News-Press and Naples Daily News.