BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation to end the requirement that state agencies and local municipalities publish legal notices in newspapers headed to the full House on Thursday.
The House State Affairs Committee approved the measure that would eliminate a source of income for Idaho newspapers.
Republican Rep. Jon Weber sponsored the bill that has appeared in various forms in previous years but ultimately failed. Weber said the bill is needed to save government entities money. He said the various government entities could publish legal notices on their own websites.
Legal notices are a form of advertising government entities in Idaho are required by law to purchase to publicize such things as new laws, construction project bid requests and important meetings.
“I realize that change isn’t easy,” Weber said. “And I certainly understand why newspapers would want to hold on to every bit of revenue, especially as more and more readers move to different online platforms for their information and news.”
Lawmakers opposed to the measure said it will make finding legal notices difficult to impossible. They also noted newspaper archives can go back decades, providing important information for future generations that would be lost under the new law.
Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri, a conservative six-term lawmaker with a history of feuding with journalists, opposed the bill.
“I am no friend of the newspapers given the history of deliberate and ruthless, reckless political misreporting at times,” he said. “And I’d, of course, personally just love to hit the newspapers where it hurts — money.”
However, he questioned the ability of people using online search engines to find the information they needed that would be scattershot across multiple government websites. He also said the archival information contained by newspapers needed to be preserved with the public notice requirement.
“I believe the necessity of proper physical archiving of news as well as notices for future historians is extremely important,” he said.
A number of newspaper executives spoke against the measure, including Pam Morris, publisher of the twice-weekly Idaho Mountain Express based in the resort and recreation town of Ketchum in central Idaho.
“Print newspapers and newspaper websites are the best possible way to let the public know what government is doing,” Morris said. “The bill would unnecessarily break that system and would leave Idahoans in the dark.”
Government websites can hide information under layers of electronic pages, she said.
The Newspaper Association of Idaho has a searchable website where Idaho newspapers post the public notices they receive.
Seth Grigg, executive director at Idaho Association of Counties, said his group backed the bill. He said 43 of Idaho’s 44 counties have websites and already post agendas for meetings.
“This is an annual priority for county officials,” Grigg said, noting previous attempts to end public notice requirements in newspapers.
The Association of Idaho Cities also supported the bill.
Sean Schupack of the Idaho Associated General Contractors, representing some 600 companies, opposed the measure. “Our industry relies on the stability, transparency and consistency that public notices, and in particular public bid notices for construction projects, that newspapers provide,” he said.