BOISE — The House State Affairs Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill that would reduce the number of times public notices need to be published in a newspaper and move more of them online.
Sponsored by Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, the bill would eliminate the current requirement that a notice be published in print two to five times. It also would require all public notices to be published online. Newspapers could charge up to $20 for an online notice. The rate for print notices, which depends on the length of the notice, wouldn’t change.
The Newspaper Association of Idaho already runs a website where it publishes all public notices. Its archives go back a couple of years; Raybould’s bill would require that notices stay online for a minimum of four weeks, and says newspapers would have to publish notices online using a platform that is free to access. Notices also would have to be published in print once, in the next edition of the area’s newspaper, and the print notice would be required to include the website address where the notices can be found online.
Raybould characterized her bill as an attempt to compromise between the interests of cities and counties, who want to save money and move entirely to publishing notices online, and newspaper groups who view the third-party verification provided by publishing notices as a way to make sure government agencies follow the law.
"This is an anticipated transition to helping folks being able to find notices online and still serve communities that find themselves reliant on their local newspaper," Raybould said.
Representatives of both newspapers and of cities and counties urged the committee to hold the bill, albeit for different reasons. Travis Quast, the regional president and publisher of Adams Publishing Group’s eastern Idaho newspapers including the Post Register, said reducing the number of times notices such as foreclosures, bankruptcies and name changes are published would make it harder for people who are affected to find them.
Quast said the amount of money charged for newspapers is set by the state and compensates newspapers for a service. He gave the example of Bannock County, which spent about $21,000 on public notices last year, or less than one-third of 1 percent of its more than $67 million budget. Quast said this works out to about 25 cents per county resident, which he argued is worth it to keep the public informed of what their government is doing.
“I don’t think that it’s really cost-prohibitive for a county to take the best interests of the citizens at heart,” Quast said.
Ada County Commissioner Rick Visser said he wishes the committee had approved a bill sponsored by former Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, last year that would have let government agencies publish notices online rather than in print at all. He said Ada County has started to publish its legal notice on its website. He also urged the committee to hold the bill, although not for the same reasons as Quast.
“We still have a goal to get a bill out that is fair to Idaho taxpayers, that does not subsidize a dying industry,” Visser said. “Whether it’s 25 cents per person or what, I’m fighting for the taxpayers. It adds up.”
By the time public testimony was over, the committee only had a few minutes until the House was scheduled to go on the floor. Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, said he plans to hold a vote Tuesday.