There is currently a bill in the Minnesota Capitol that would allow local governments to publish their official public notices on their own government websites rather than in newspapers and on newspaper websites, as state law has long required.
The purpose of printed public notices is to publicize information about government actions in places where the public is most likely to see that information, allowing citizens to make well-informed decisions and be active participants in a democratic society. Governments, by law, must provide that information so it’s transparent and easily accessible.
The proposed public-notices bill is known as SF 1152. It’s a bad bill for the following good reasons:
• One of the first things the fledgling American government did in 1789 was to order the publication of every bill, order, resolution and congressional vote in at least three public newspapers. There was a healthy distrust of the newly formed government they were in the process of forming, and they did not want to leave notices of governmental actions to be left up to the government alone. The founders of our government knew all too well what happens when there is not public transparency; shady dealing and corruption can quickly set in. There is no guarantee governments will publish notices in a timely manner and nothing to prevent those notices from being incomplete or even changed. By having newspapers publish notices, there is a healthy “watch-dog” function in place. Very strict standards are in place for newspaper publication of notices.
• Governments are already allowed to place public notices on their websites, and newspapers, by the way, have encouraged them to do so in addition to publishing them in papers. Few governmental entities have done so. Newspapers publish notices on their websites at no additional cost.
• The supporters of SF 1152 claim it will save government costs. That has never been established. Newspapers currently charge for public notices at rates below standard news advertising. The cost of newspaper public notices is a tiny fraction of every governmental budget. The cost of designing and maintaining websites in proper working order would likely be far more expensive on an ongoing basis than paying to have them printed in newspapers.
• People far and wide have become accustomed to viewing public notices in a place they won’t have trouble finding them – in their local newspapers and on newspapers’ websites. It has, in fact, become an American tradition and one of the wellsprings of democracy.
• Another big plus for newspaper publication of public notices is they then become part of history, stored as newspaper archives for all to see well into the future. There is no guarantee and no requirement for governments to archive such notices for future generations.
• Almost 30 percent of Minnesotans have no easy access to the Web. Many low-income and senior citizens don’t have computers and don’t know how to use them. They depend on newspapers to get their information. In Minnesota, there are 342 newspapers read by 2,354,034 households, according to the last U.S. Census. Contrary to popular belief, newspaper circulation and readership has increased and visits to newspaper websites have skyrocketed.
• Democracy, in order to thrive, requires absolute transparency and accountability. Public notices printed in newspapers, not in government offices, is a very important way to be transparent and accountable so readers can be informed reliably.
We hope the people of this great state contact their legislators and tell them to vote “NO” to SF 1152. The bill is expected to come before the Senate State and Local Government Committee Feb. 26, which is “Local Government Day” at the State Capitol. That committee, along with all state senators and representatives, should deep-six that bad bill.
Names and ddresses for local government officials voting on this bill: Sen. Michelle Fischbach, 15 State Office Building, Room 15, St. Paul MN 55155. 651-296-2084. email@example.com
AND Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, 357 State Office Building, St. Paul MN 55155. 651-296-7808. firstname.lastname@example.org.