Minnesota lawmakers will convene soon, and one of the first proposals they will consider is a bill to allow local governments to put public notices on their own websites and abandon the requirement to pay newspapers to print them.
We strongly disagree with this proposal. Yes, it would remove a source of revenue for newspapers. But we oppose it as well because the public will not be well served by removing newspapers as the main source for legal notices.
The public notice requirement was established to provide important information to the public about their government in a place where the public is most likely to see it. People already look to us for news reports about local government, so it only makes sense that they will look to us for public notices as well. Public notices allow citizens to make informed decisions and be active participants in their government. They lead to transparency in government.
Would public notices be as widespread if they were only available on government websites? It may seem like everyone is online these days, but there are many people who don't have computers, or Internet access. Many senior citizens are computer literate, but many are not. But they do read newspapers.
Newspapers have supported common sense changes in legal notice regulations, including the law passed 10 years ago requiring newspapers that publish legal notices to also place them on their websites at no charge.
Newspapers in America have always served as part of the checks and balances in a community, one that keeps citizens informed and government on its toes. Part of that job includes publishing legal notices. Taking that away, and putting it in the hands of government alone, would weaken those checks and balances.