Don’t let legislators keep you in the dark

Published 2:19 pm Friday, January 15, 2016

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2016 session began on Wednesday, and — we have just learned from the Virginia Press Association — there are already bills introduced that if passed would limit your access to what’s going on in government.

What a shock.

Specifically, how public notices would be affected might well concern you as they do for us in the newspaper business.

Delegates Richard P. Bell (R-20) and Christopher Head (R-17), have each presented legislation that essentially circumvents or stops the requirement of localities to advertise legal notices in newspapers.

Bell’s HB 129 gives localities options to public legal notices such as their own website, a public access channel, voice or text alerts and even libraries. HB 286, brought forth by Head, proposes that a locality of a population 50,000 or more be allowed to also advertise such notices on that locality’s website. Further, a town, city or county government can fulfill publishing requirements instead on radio or television or on the locality’s website.

Let’s be upfront that we have a vested interest in publishing legal notices, such as announcements of public hearings at council or supervisor meetings. That’s income for us. Putting that consideration aside, there’s still the issue of how a locality should inform its residents. If the bills promoted that legal notices be advertised in other venues in addition to newspapers, we would support those legislators’ efforts.

They might genuinely see their efforts as a money-saving measure for localities. But ultimately the actions really would sacrifice accessibility for all residents just for the sake of a comparatively few dollars.

Tch. Tch. Tch.