Bill pushing public notices to county website heads to House floor

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The House took up a bill last week that would roll back a deal in last year’s public notice legislation, allowing counties to publish those notices on a county website.

HB 7049, sponsored by Republican Rep. Randy Fine (Melbourne Beach), would give governmental agencies the option to publish public notices on a publicly accessible website of a county the notice takes place in instead of in a print newspaper.

Last year’s bill removed a long-standing rule requiring notices to exclusively appear in subscription-rich newspapers and allowed notices to be published online in addition to a local newspaper. The 2021 bill sought to remove the newspaper requirement altogether. However, lawmakers and the Florida Press Association hammered out a deal to allow governments to continue posting notices in newspapers as well as on the Florida Press Association website.

This year’s bill undoes that requirement, allowing notices to be published on “a publicly accessible website of a county.”

On the House floor Tuesday, Fine said the legislation is meant to end what he called government subsidies to newspapers through the requirement, instead giving businesses options as to where they post their public notices.

“It’s simply creating options for folks to get better distributions at a lower cost,” Fine said.

The bill also tries to take into account counties and people with limited internet access that could be impacted by the change to digital. It requires local governments and governmental agencies 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 mail. They will then send legally required advertisements and public notices to all those that opt in to receiving them in that way.

Additionally, the bill requires a governmental agency located in a county with a population fewer than 160,000 to first hold a public hearing to determine that its residents have sufficient access to the internet before transitioning their notices to the county website.

The bill now awaits third reading on the House floor.

From Clay Today:

The legislation includes the advertisement of public notices – things like sheriff’s auctions, debt notices, foreclosures or court actions. Public notices in Clay County have been an important source of information provided by Clay Today for decades. Fine also said newspapers were from a bygone era.

“We disagree with Rep. Fine’s assertion that print newspapers are no longer an important vehicle for local information,” said Clay Today Publisher and FPA Board Chairman Jon Cantrell. “Clay

Today is an important part of this community. Legal advertising is available in our newspapers, as well as our website.”

Fine said Florida taxpayers spend about $200 million a year advertising in county publications.

He didn’t say how much it would cost for counties to create, collect and post public notices on their websites, or how much it would cost to print and mail notices.

Fine’s attempt to move public notices away from newspapers started shortly after the Florida Today in Melbourne posted a 2018 column “Rep. Randy Fine’s bullying of local leaders is bad for Brevard County.”

The editorial board of local newspaper Florida Today has criticized Fine’s personal style. Their joint editorial said “Fine is obviously a hard working lawmaker who has used his watchdog skills to do good” but said that “Fine should defend what he believes in, but not by launching tirades against others as crusades on behalf of his constituents. He can look good without trying to make others look bad with personal attacks.”

Fine, along with Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), started his campaign against local newspapers less than a year later.

Clay Today is interested in what you think, and you can reach our managing editor at don@claytodayonline.com. More important, we suggest reaching out to Sen. Jennifer Bradley’s office at (904) 278-2085 to voice your opinion.

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