Florida Association of Counties Communications Director Cragin Mosteller reported to Historic City News yesterday, that a new legislative bill has been introduced that would allow local governments to advertise their legal notices on Internet websites.
“Here we have another example of an antiquated law that has been outgrown by technology”, Historic City News Editor Michael Gold said. “I commend Senator Dean on introducing this bill since existing laws only serve to profit printed newspapers. Print imposes too many limitations on information storage and retrieval — most people look for things on the Internet.”
District 3 Senator Charlie Dean filed SB 376 which was posted 10/13/2009, allowing local governments the option to post public notices and legal requirements on publicly accessible websites. The bill text can be found here.
This bill is expected to save local governments millions of dollars by repealing an unfunded mandate that requires counties post certain information in newspapers. Senator Storms filed a similar bill last year that was extremely controversial with the newspapers. The newspaper industry opposed the bill due to the revenue generated by these required postings, like public notices for the enactment of an ordinance or the notification of commission meetings. This unfunded mandate costs some counties as little as $3,000, and others as much as $3 million.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee report illustrates the cost borne by local governments. It is important to note that the report says only 15 counties completed the survey and yet revenues “acquired from newspapers indicate that the cost to counties may be more significant than is reflected in the local government reports”. The average cost to counties is more than $61,000 each year.
Publication of notices of action and the proof of publication are covered in Section 49.10, FLORIDA STATUTES. Currently, legal notices must be published in some newspaper in the county where the court is located. Fla. Stat. §49.10(1)(a).
The nature of the newspaper (in which notices must be published) is governed by
Section 50.0l1, FLORIDA STATUTES, which lists six requirements:
1. The newspaper must be published weekly or more often.
2. At least 25% of the words in the newspaper must be in English.
3. The newspaper must be entered or qualified to be admitted and entered as periodicals matter at a post office in the county where it is published (but this requirement has additional qualifications under §50.031).
4. The newspaper must be for sale to the public generally.
5. The newspaper must accept and publish official and other notices from the general public.
6. The newspaper must customarily contain information (i.e., news)
-A. of a public character or
-B. of interest or value to the residents or owners of property in the county where published, or
-C. of interest or of value to the general public
The seventh and eighth requirements are imposed by Section 50 031, FLORIDA STATUTES:
7. The newspaper shall have been in existence for one year.
The eighth requirement is additionally refined in Section 50.051, FLORIDA STATUTES, which requires the Proof of Publication state that the newspaper “is a newspaper published at ______, in said ______ County, Florida, and that the said newspaper has heretofore been entered as periodicals matter at the post office in ______, in said ______ County, Florida, for a period of 1 year next preceding the publication of the attached copy of advertisement… .”
Section 49.10, FLORIDA STATUTES, requires that the Proof of Publication must comply with the requirements of law. In other words, the Proof of Publication must provide under oath that the newspaper meets all statutory requirements.
“As taxpayers,” Gold went on to say, “many of us are fed up with our government subsidizing private industries like automakers, banking and insurance. The newspaper industry is no different. Existing laws in Florida impede the communication of notice to the general public and force government agencies, unnecessarily, to buy advertising that will be eliminated if the Senate Bill passes.”
Gold says “People are mobile – they get and exchange news and information in ways never imagined in the early 1900’s when many laws, like these, were enacted. Today, people capture the news with cameras in their cell phones; they tweet on Twitter, monitor podcasts and e-mail newsletters to thousands of others in the blink of an eye. Who would have ever thought that Citizen Kane would be replaced by citizen journalists?”