Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa and Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) want to free local governments from the requirement that they publish legal notices in newspapers. They say it could save government money in these tight times.

Here’s the short description of HF162: “Political subdivisions authorized to publish proceedings, official notices, and summaries on their Web sites in lieu of newspaper publication.” Click here for the unofficial lengthy version, which states in part that a government unit “must also make print copies of all published documents available at the main office of the political subdivision, any other government offices designated by the political subdividions, all public libraries within the jurisdiction, and by mail upon request.”

Finally, “the political subdivision must publish in a qualified newspaper in the jurisdiction and on the Web site, notice of the alternative means of publication.”

The state’s newspaper association opposes the law, according to an article in the Star Tribune. As well it should: The law brings a substantial amount of money to newspapers, who have enjoyed a revenue bump in the past few years from the increase in the number of mortgage foreclosures.

The Star Tribune mentions several points of opposition:

  • The elderly are less likely to be online.
  • Going to the library is inconvenient.
  • Cutting into newspaper revenue will mean fewer reporters on the street.

All are worthy points, and the costs of running legal notices in newspapers, while real, are not substantial compared with other costs, such as pensions for public employees. There’s also a reduction, if however slight, in the transparency of government actions. Still, costs should be considered, too: If maximizing coverage of government actions is important, why not require cities and school districts to run TV ads telling people about the “notices of the week?”

On balance, I’d say the requirement that governments still run a small announcement in local papers advising people of the availability of a longer notice is, while not perfect, good enough.

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