Someone in the Florida legislature finally gets it

Historic City News’ long advocated position that state law unreasonably protected a monopoly in the area of publishing public notices is finally gathering support in Tallahassee; finding that this could be the year governments are no longer required to post public notices in newspapers.

Palm Bay Republican, Representative Randy Fine, the sponsor of HB-7, told members of the Florida House Judiciary Committee this week that current noticing requirements don’t make sense in the modern media landscape. Existing rules rely on community newspapers reaching the widest number of citizens.  Fine points out that given the rise of digital media, that’s no longer the case.

“We sometimes argue like we are living in a fictional world where everyone is getting the newspaper every day, and they can’t wait to read these notices that are printed in a 6-point font,” Fine said.  “It’s no longer even an effective way to notify citizens, expecting that they read a local paper.”

In Miami-Dade County, there are 24 newspapers that legally count as “qualified publications”; which describes print-based newspapers that have published for at least one year, continue to publish at least once-a-week, whose content is predominantly of general public interest, and who enter their papers into the US mail using a second-class mailing permit within the county of publication.

“Only in government do we think notices in 24 newspapers is more efficient than push notifications,” said Representative Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat who works in private practice as a land-use attorney.

Nonetheless, well-financed media giants, their lobbyists, and the trade organization “Florida Press Association“, whose print-publishing members profit by the state’s antiquated law, are finally being exposed for having successfully squelched competitive interests who could effectively circulate public notices digitally at a fraction of the price charged by printed newspapers.

Governments still will need to publish public notices, but moving that information online means they do so at little-to-no cost.  A Tampa Republican, Representative James Grant, said he doesn’t think governments choose to publish notices in the widest circulation publication, either. Instead, they will always choose the cheapest.

Despite strong, compelling arguments, HB-7 is not without critics.  Some print publishers, including some from rural areas of the state, spoke out against the bill, saying many non-connected Floridians still rely on print publications for news.  Some say a cost will be incurred in eyeballs, because some legal notices will go completely unseen by a generation of citizens they say are living in a non-digital world.