OUR CORNER: Legal ads help keep us informed

State legislators are looking for ways to pare down a budget deficit projected to be $4.6 billion in 2011-13, and ease recessionary burdens on local governments, too.

Two pieces of legislation now floating about Olympia – Senate Bill 5360 and House Bill 1478 - would allow cities and counties to place public notices on their websites instead of publishing them in their local newspapers. The idea: to save local governments the cost of publishing those notices in print.

But those savings would be minimal, particularly compared to the resulting disintegration of the public’s access to information about what their government is doing.

It’s no secret newspapers profit from the publishing of legal notices and we’re aware many see this stance as a way of clinging to a dependable revenue stream. But, honestly, the issue is bigger than that.

It’s not the responsibility of the public, or government, to assure the financial health of any newspaper. We need to provide a solid product that entices readers and advertisers.

That’s our job. The job of government is to keep its citizens informed, to work in the light of day and not make things difficult for the public.

The publishing of public notices in newspapers of record dates to 1789, when the first Congress required publication of its bills, orders, resolutions and votes in at least three publicly available newspapers. The purpose was to require government to report its actions to its citizens in a medium that is independent of government.

Publishing public notices in a newspaper of record ensures that decisions related to public debt, laws, policy, taxation and quality of life are made in the open. It empowers the public to get involved. And it contributes to a reservoir of archived material in a form that cannot be altered, changed, hacked, hidden or manipulated after the fact.

Newspaper publication of public notices is an insurance policy that notices are disseminated to the public at the proper times and in proper sequence. Publication of each notice is verified and authenticated by the newspaper’s publisher.

If government websites become the sole source of public notices, there would be no way to secure that verification and it would be more difficult for the community to monitor accuracy and compliance with applicable laws.

Public notices published in local newspapers provide citizens with a window into their government. The public should not have to discover government activities by digging through websites offered by various levels of local government.

Let your legislator know you want the public notices provision of SB5360 and HB1478 removed. Our local contacts are Sen. Pam Roach, 360-786-7660; Rep. Christopher Hurst, 360-786-7866; and Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, 360-786-7846.

In an age of audience fragmentation, the local newspaper remains the one forum in which the community comes together to exchange information of common interest -- including, most certainly, the activities of local government.

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