The General Assembly is currently in session, and that means every resident of the commonwealth needs to be paying attention to what is going on in Frankfort.
Of course, the point of any legislative session is to openly debate ideas and produce policy that is in the best interest of the commonwealth and all who live, work and play in Kentucky. Such discussion, even of bad policy, is good and needed. But inevitably each year, legislation that is bad for Kentuckians is proposed and somehow still gains traction.
House Bill 195 is a bad bill and I encourage every taxpayer from Ashland to Paducah to call on their representatives to object to its passing.
HB195, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville) seeks to eliminate public notice advertising from community newspapers which serve as the legal organs and papers of record in the communities which they serve. Instead, HB195 allows government agencies across the state to post said notices on their own individual websites.
This bill is bad policy for a number of reasons.
First, a free press exists to hold power to account. The public should believe strongly that those who govern be accountable by way of an independent third party. The public should not rely on any local government to have control on what is placed on a website, how it is placed or where it is placed.
Second, there are far too many agencies involved for this solution to be viable. In Hopkins County alone where are multiple municipalities and townships with several agencies within their umbrella, school boards, county government, etc.
An inquiring citizen would need to spend countless hours each day chasing down each website to view the individual meeting notices, requests for proposals, bid requests, etc. The proposed solution is inefficient at best, and a train wreck for transparency.
Third, this proposal severely restricts access to public information. Many smaller cities and government agencies do not have websites, or do not regularly update them. Furthermore, much of rural Kentucky still lacks reliable broadband access and would not have a vehicle to view public notices inside the parameters of this proposal.
Nearly one in five Kentuckians are without reliable access to an internet connection. It should never be the goal of the legislature to create a less informed electorate.
Finally, the impact of this legislation would be a formidable blow to many smaller community newspapers around the state. In smaller communities the revenue gained from legal advertising is the lifeline of the local newspaper and translates directly into jobs.
As a result, smaller community papers would literally be put out of business, and mid-sized communities would have to make tough decisions about what products and services to scale back as result of no longer having the revenue to support them.
The proponents of this legislation argue two points. They say that it’s more efficient to place these notices online and that it will save government agencies needed money to put toward other priorities such as pension obligations.
Unfortunately for fans of this bill, the proposed legislation accomplishes neither.
Newspapers across Kentucky are already putting public notices online in real time and doing it in a better way than proposed by HB195. Anyone can visit kypublicnotice.com to view up-to-date public notices from across the state. With each edition published, member newspapers of the Kentucky Press Association feed the public notice advertising in each edition to this free resource available to anyone, anywhere in one spot as opposed to countless locations.
As far as saving local government money so they can clean up Frankfort’s mess in the ongoing pension crisis, that is a farce.
A study done perhaps three years ago by the Legislative Research Commission’s Program Review and Investigations Committee and coordinating LRC staff, found that on average a public agency spends only one% of its operating budget on publishing these notices in local newspapers. The cost is not at all exorbitant though some would have you believe that.
In fact, crippling local businesses with this move could backfire across the state.
Many small newspapers across Kentucky can show that they pay quite a bit more in local taxes — property taxes, payroll taxes, other local taxes — than what they receive from publishing public notices. Putting them out of business would actually cost their local governments money.
The Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties would do well to understand this math equation.
Not to mention, without a watchdog in the community keeping an eye on those in power the temptations of corruption abound.
It is rumored that this bill will begin to make its way through committee the first week of February. Now is the time to speak up.
I implore you to reach out to your representatives in Frankfort and let them know that this proposal is a non-starter for you.
Brandon Cox is the manager of The Messenger. He also serves as publisher for the Kentucky New Era, Oak Grove Eagle Post and Cadiz Record in Christian and Trigg counties. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonJCox.