Is it time to take public notices digital?
Those pages in our newspaper, with the government notices of election dates, upcoming public hearings, and legal descriptions of property to be sold or redeveloped are the focus of House Bill 4183.
It's a bill that could cost newspapers a long-time source of revenue, and it could shut out people who don't have Internet access.
Lindsay VanHulle is with Bridge and Crain’s Detroit Business, and she tells us that as it’s currently written the bill looks to phase out print publication of public notices over the next 10 years, and move those publications online.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, is attempting to modernize existing public notice standards.
“There are more than 200 state laws in some form that have some requirement that notices be published in print, and a lot of those were written before the Internet was adopted,” VanHulle says.
According to VanHulle, those laws largely don’t reflect the changing nature of technology, so the idea is to move these policies into the 21st century by following the trending increase of online readership.
She says that the bill is receiving support from many cities, townships and villages, because they see it as an opportunity to save money on printing costs by posting notices online instead.
There are no solid figures to suggest how much money could be saved, but she says it’s likely that by eliminating the need to keep contracts with newspaper companies there will be some savings made possible for these municipalities.
TV and radio broadcasters are also in favor of the bill, VanHulle says. They don’t currently have a printed product, so they see this as an opportunity to have a share of that business.
It’s probably no surprise that those opposed to the bill include newspaper organizations. They want to retain the right to print notices in their papers as well as on their websites, VanHulle explains.
“[Physical print is] tangible, it’s easily archivable. … You can go to library and find centuries’ worth of newspapers on microfilm,” she says.
VanHulle tells us that there are also a number of lawmakers concerned about those people who may not have ready access to the Internet.
“There are places where cell service and internet service is still very spotty,” VanHulle says, and many smaller communities still rely on those newspaper notices.
According to VanHulle, a proposed amendment would allow local governments to move online but have the option to keep print publication as a backup.
House Bill 4183 is currently pending, but VanHulle says it could resurface some time this fall after the summer recess.