An unnecessary piece of legislation that failed to gain traction in 2015 could return for consideration in the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Senate Bill 186 would give local government the option of posting their public notices on their own website instead of publishing them in the legal organ newspaper. However, thanks to Georgia newspapers and the Georgia Press Association, public notices are already posted for free on the internet and have been for nearly a decade.
GeorgiaPublicNotice.com aggregates public notices from printed local newspapers in Georgia’s 159 counties.
Newspapers took the initiative to build GeorgiaPublicNotice.com not because it was required by law, but because it enhanced the way Georgians can get their news and information. Current law calls for public notices to be printed in Georgia newspapers for a price set by the legislature. They are posted on GeorgiaPublicNotice.com at no additional cost to taxpayers.
SB 186 would require each participating government to build its own website; maintain and index paper copies of each notice; mail or email copies of the notices to anyone who requests it; and provide copies to the public library and clerk of superior court to preserve for 12 months. Providing these new services would come at an unnecessary additional cost to government in the form of extra personnel, time and infrastructure. Newspapers have already built a framework, and are disseminating public notices for free through GeorgiaPublicNotice.com or for the price of a single newspaper.
Dismissing newspapers from the public notice process removes a crucial check on government, and creates an information obstacle for Georgians. SB 186 would allow Georgians to see the notices only if they have a computer and costly internet access or are willing to jump through hoops to get access to a printed copy from a government clerk.
Newspapers are an independent party able to scrutinize notices before they are published. Then once printed, the newspaper is an automatic, permanent record of the public notice proving when and what was published. Ink on newsprint is immune to electronic alteration, unlike websites that could be targeted by would-be hackers or unscrupulous government officials wanting to tinker with a notice.
Public notices are important, providing information to the public about issues such as zoning changes, public hearings, adoptions, property tax increases, tax liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies and more. The public has a right to expect easy access to such information. Georgia newspapers make that happen, and it’s in the best interest of Georgians to keep it that way.
Mesha Wind is the advertising director of The Cairo Messenger and president of the Georgia Press Association.