State Rep. Jonathan Strickland from Bedford wants the Texas Legislature to pass a bill to require public notices, including legal ads, be placed on the Texas Comptroller’s website instead of printed in full in newspapers.
He claims government needs to stay out of businesses and allow them to thrive on their own, a reference we assume to the cost to government entities for publishing public notices in newspapers.
So in the last legislative session he sponsored House Bill 335 to require local government to post their complete public notices on the Texas Comptroller’s website, with a blurb about them in newspapers referring readers to the web address for the full story.
That measure failed, but he is bringing it up again in the 2015 session by submitting the same proposal in House Bill 139. It needs to fail again in the interest of government transparency and accountability.
Newspapers publish public notices to alert residents to critical details of local government such as zoning changes, bond elections, tax proposals, road contracts and other matters. There are also issues such as when a neighborhood store applies for a license to sell alcohol and residents learn they can speak against it.
Newspapers and their websites are independent, trustworthy forums for public notification. They also are more widely available to the public than an obscure government website that is subject to self-serving manipulation and seldom thought of as a source of news.
There’s another important reason public notices should stay in newspapers and their websites. The director of the legislative budget board estimates it would cost close to a million tax dollars the first year to just add technology and people to publish public notices on the State Comptroller’s website. Subsequent years would cost thousands of more tax dollars for several employees to process the notices and maintain the website.
In other words, the economics don’t work. Neither does the notion of abbreviating public notices in newspapers. That’s why House Bill 139 is bad legislation. The public deserves the widest possible notice of what their local, regional and state governments are up to.