PHOENIX – Despite objections from newspaper publishers, a House committee endorsed two bills Thursday that would allow local governments to publish public notices online rather than in newspapers.
Rep. David W. Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, chairman of the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee and author of one of the bills, said communities shouldn’t have to pay newspapers to publish notices when they can be posted on their websites or in other public forums.
“The more we can do from our homes is a better service for the citizens of the state,” Stevens said.
Public notices call attention to meetings, budgets, public improvements and many other government matters.
Arizona law requires that such notices be published in an English-language newspaper of general circulation. If a newspaper is printed daily, a notice must run four consecutive days. In a weekly newspaper, a notice must run for two consecutive weeks.
Stevens said that some cities already post notices online but still have to pay to publish them in newspapers.
He authored HB 2483, which would allow cities, towns and counties to publish public notices in public forums other than newspapers.
HB 2533, authored by Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, would give local governments the option of posting notices online or having another organization do so instead of publishing them in a newspaper.
“A lot of the general public has access to the Internet at the library where they can read the online notices,” Petersen said.
The committee voted 3-2 for Stevens’ bill and 4-2 for Petersen’s.
Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, opposed both bills, while Rep. Andrew Sherwood, D-Mesa, opposed HB 2483 and Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, voted against HB 2533.
Otondo said newspapers are important in her rural district, where many older residents “don’t even know how to turn on a computer.”
A 2000 report by the National Newspaper Association found that between 5 and 10 percent of revenue at community newspapers came from public notices.
Tom Arviso, publisher and CEO of Navajo Times Publishing Co., told the committee that many people who live on reservations get their news and public notices from newspapers because many lack computers and access to the Internet.
“Not everyone has electricity, let alone running water,” Arviso said. “With the newspaper, they get the news in their own language. The public notice section is important.”
Jonathan Paton, a former Republican state senator representing Wick Communications Co., a Sierra Vista-based newspaper group, said newspapers serve as a “third party watchdog” to make sure public notices run properly.
“Do you trust the government to disclose what happened at a committee meeting?” he said.
Dale Wiebusch, representing the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, registered his organization’s support for Stevens’ bill and said the change would save local governments money.
Rep. David M. Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, who voted for both bills, said people looking for public notices could go the library to read them online if local governments posted them.
“Why should we subsidize newspapers?” he said.
Stevens said his goal isn’t completely cutting out newspapers but finding middle ground that can save communities money while providing the public better service.
“Technology is providing us more options than we had 100 years ago,” he said. “If the information is that important, we want to get it to them quickly.”