Public Notices have long been required to be published in newspapers across the country and for many good reasons. However, if Senate Bill 101, filed this year by state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who represents District 23 that covers part of Kenton County, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, representing District 3 that includes Christian, Logan and Todd counties, passes, local governments will have the option to post their public notices on their own websites and only publish a small ad in the newspaper directing the public to the government agencies’ websites.
The problem with this proposed bill is that it takes away four key elements of public notices. The four key elements that newspapers provide through public notices are independence, archiving, accessibility and verifiability.
Independence: Do we really want our government agencies to post their own legal ads on the Internet? There should always be a third-party watch dog with neutral interest overseeing public notices and providing independent proof of notification. Also placing the responsibility of notifying the public in the hands of government officials is just opening up the door for abuse.
Archiving: Currently most public notices are required to be published in local newspapers. By publishing in print, there will always be physical proof that serves as an authentic record for now and years to come. The Internet doesn’t provide a reliable history.
Accessibility: The proposed bill states that all public notices will be posted on the Internet for easy access. That sounds good, but the U.S. Census reports that only 64 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, and only 35 percent of Americans older than 65, use the Internet. Add to those numbers the fact that rural parts of America, including Eastern Kentucky, don’t have Internet service readily available or that they have no reliable service, and all of those people could be left without access to public notices. Local newspapers provide access for all segments of society.
Verifiability: By publishing public notices in local newspapers, the public has been properly notified according to the law in a timely manner and can be verified by a sworn affidavit. Websites and Internet postings are subject to hackers and serious security issues, making them legally vulnerable. Public notice content could also be changed after the fact. With printed newspapers, that’s not possible.
The main argument for online public notices is that it doesn’t cost as much money as publishing them in the local newspaper. However, the senators are forgetting that with this proposed legislation, each government agency would have to have its own website and have someone manage that website, which costs money too.
Leaving public notices in the hands of a third-party, reliable source that has a proven track record for over a century just makes good sense. Local newspapers have provided a single, convenient location for citizens to find public notices at an affordable cost. Letting government agencies be responsible for posting their own public notices on their own websites is asking for corruption of the system.
Provided by the Kentucky Press News Service.