Editorial: Three cheers for HB-7

Editorial: Three cheers for HB-7

Michael Gold, Editor
Historic City News

For years I have bemoaned Florida’s “Printed Newspaper Protection Act”, sections 50.011 and 50.031, Florida Statutes, that created a monopoly for mullet wrappers across the state.

These last-century laws, supported by lobbyists for the Florida Press Association and publishing juggernauts around the state, made sure that the legal community would buy their legal notices from news organizations responsible for our overflowed landfills and who poisoned the ground with toxic printer’s inks.

Once upon a time, a newspaper was the primary means of information delivery and gasoline cost less than $1.00 a gallon.  In the twenty years since Historic City News has been publishing, though, that hasn’t been the case.

  • Under §50.011 F.S., any statutorily prescribed legal notice, advertisement or publication must be published:
    “in a newspaper printed and published periodically once a week or oftener, containing at least 25 percent of its words in the English language, entered or qualified to be admitted and entered as second-class matter at a post office in the county where published, for sale to the public generally, available to the public generally for the publication of official or other notices and customarily containing information of a public character or of interest or of value to the residents or owners of property in the county where published, or of interest or of value to the general public.”
  • Further, §50.031 F.S., requires, in part, that such newspapers:
    “shall have been in existence for 1 year and shall have been entered as second-class mail matter at a post office in the county where published, or in a newspaper which is a direct successor of a newspaper which together have been so published.

I am not certain that a legal notice published in the print edition of The St Augustine Record has met all those requirements since the bankruptcy.  With more people getting their information online, shouldn’t public notices go digital?

If you think you would be more likely to see a notice posted to a public website or Internet-based news journal, you are not alone.  Besides us, of course, you think like Florida Representative Randy Fine who thinks public notices should be online rather than on the back page of a newspaper.

  • Fine would require legal notices to be posted on a “publicly accessible website,” defined as “a governmental agency’s official website or other private website designated by the governmental agency for the posting of legal notices and advertisements that is accessible via the Internet.”
  • The bill doesn’t ban agencies from buying newspaper ads, though it would allow for another type of print advertising — direct mail.  Governmental agencies would need to buy an ad once a year in a publication “delivered to all residents and property owners throughout the government’s jurisdiction” letting them know that they can register to receive public notices by email or snail mail.

Fine, a Brevard County Republican, filed a similar bill last year. It passed through the full House but wasn’t picked up in the Senate.

The existing laws are contrary to the reality of current technologies that are in widespread public use.  They are a fat chunk of political pork that has only lined the pockets of a few men vested in the printing business and the sleezy lawyers who lobby our legislature on their behalf.

Over the past 20-years, members of the St Johns County legislative delegation have all read Historic City News.  The time has come to put aside the PAC money from FPA and do the right thing for your constituents — adopt HB-7 and support this overdue legislation in the Senate.