OUR POSITION: The Florida Legislature is closer to passing laws to delete public notices from newspapers and that would be a blow to transparency and further burden the public’s accessibility to information.

Charlotte County is taking bids on work to refurbish Port Charlotte High School.

Electricians and others are welcome to bid on work at DeSoto Correctional Institution.

Talon Towing and Transport LLC is selling some vehicles at public auction in North Port on Feb. 21.

PODS Enterprises in Englewood will sell the contents of certain containers at public auction from Feb. 18-25.

Interested? Maybe, maybe not, but if it were not for public notices in your Sun newspaper, you might not have that information. At best you would have to go online and look for those notices, if you know where to look.

If lawmakers pass HB 7 and a companion piece in the Senate, you will probably never see a public notice in your newspaper again. The bill allows governments and other entities to put public notices online instead of printing them in newspapers.

We believe it is a terrible mistake, and not just because it will rob Florida newspapers of needed income. That loss of income, however, is an impact of the legislation that does not seem to bother lawmakers — many of whom have never necessarily embraced transparency.

Despite all the talk about creating jobs, those who sponsor, or are drawn to this piece of legislation, don’t seem to mind the possibility of dozens if not hundreds of jobs that will be lost in the state’s newspaper industry. Weekly and small-town newspapers will be especially hard hit as as much as 20 percent of their income is derived from legal notices.

The biggest concern, however, is the difficulty constituents could have getting information that is now readily available by just opening up your newspaper.

As we wrote earlier, the legislation means governmental agencies would need to buy an ad once a year in a publication “delivered to all residents and property owners throughout the government’s jurisdiction” letting them know that they can register to receive public notices by email or snail mail.

Newspapers serve an important role as an independent, third-party verification that legal notices are indeed published. Otherwise, residents would remain in the dark.

This legislation provides no guarantees that anyone would monitor local governments to make sure all public notices are on their sites. And it is unsure if there are provisions for making sure local governments post the notices online in time for residents to show up to meetings and/or learn about things that would impact them.

TaxWatch, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, has opposed this bill. And, a poll taken last year showed that a large majority of Floridians want more, not less, access to public notices.

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, is one of the sponsors of this legislation. We urge Sen. Gruters to pull the bill.

We also urge our readers to contact Gruters, (941-378-6309 or 850-487-5023); State Rep. Mike Grant, R-Port Charlotte (941-613-0914 or 850-717-5075); Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow (863-534-0073 or 941-575-5717 or 850-487-5026) and State Rep. James Buchanan, R-Sarasota (941-429-4560 or 850-717-5074) and tell them you don’t like this legislation.

It should not be made more difficult to learn what is going on in your neighborhood.


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