Current law in Florida mandates state and local government entities to purchase print newspaper advertising to inform the public about code changes, governmental events, and deadlines.
House Bill 35, sponsored by Representative Randy Fine of Palm Bay, would repeal a part of the current Florida law that provides Florida’s print newspapers with millions of dollars in revenue every year. Some say the current law is a government subsidy of the “dying” print newspaper business. Some say it’s still the most efficient way for these entities to communicate with the public and ensures that the public is notified of important notices and pertinent information.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and other proponents say the current public notices system is out of date. The fact that people and local governments must pay print publications to publish legal notices amounts to a government subsidy and that most people get their news online and via mobile devices.
The Florida House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 35 85 -35 and the Florida Senate is now discussing the bill. HB 35 would allow residents to sign up to get legal notices delivered in the mail from their local governments, as well as the notices being permitted to be placed on certain non-print organizations on their websites – not on their printed news.
The state’s print publications — most of which also utilize websites — oppose the bill. Millions of Floridians still read the print newspaper, they argue.
The bill recently passed in the Florida House, with most Republicans voting for the bill and most Democrats voting against it. The Senate version of the legislation, SB 402, is currently in its first Senate committee.
Florida representative from District 42, Fred Hawkins, recently said this with regard to HB 35, “HB 35 modernizes outdated notice requirements, increases access and for our citizens, and eliminates a state mandate on local government. I believe local decisions are best made locally. Our legislature is working to combat the narrative that we too frequently impose local mandates. This bill gives local governments increased flexibility in their communities. If a regional jurisdiction finds it is best to reach their community in print, online, or both, they will be free to pursue any route. By removing the requirement that all public meeting notices appear in print, HB 35 allows local government to make the best decisions for their communities on how to distribute this information in a way that maximizes citizen engagement. Not only will HB 35 not limit public access, in fact, it will increase it. HB 35 is all about greater accessibility for our residents to public information. While the vast majority of Floridians find their information online, any resident who does not have regular access to the internet will be able to sign up in person, online, or over the phone to receive free notices from their local government.”
Critics of the bill, typically print news organizations, argue that this legislation will make it difficult for businesses in Florida to find important information they need. The information that businesses are impacted by, which is often found in public notices, could include rezoning and land use ordinances, forfeiture and seizure of property, or disclosure of property tax impact, to name a few. Proponents of the bill are basically saying most people don’t see these legal notices anyway, as most people ingest their news in digital ways, not through print newspapers.