Companion bills filed in the state Senate and House on Tuesday, March 21, concerning public notices and legal advertising are not going to please mainstream newspapers.

Identical bills were filed in the Senate and House to bring the public notification laws into the 21st century.

Sens. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford), Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland) and Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) and Reps. John Blust (R-Guilford), Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and William Brawley (R-Mecklenburg) are the sponsors of the companion bills.

The law requiring public notifications to be placed in newspapers with paid circulation goes back to an era before radio and television, and long before the internet. Wade said the requirements detailed in the law for public notification were no longer the best or most cost-effective method to reach the public.

Wade said, “We all share the goal of making sure the public is better informed about what their government is doing. When the current system was developed in the early 1900s, the best way to achieve that goal was with newspaper ads – but in 2017, it’s the internet. Instead of subsidizing for-profit news corporations, this bill helps save local tax dollars and generates new revenue to pay our public school teachers more.”

The bill gives local governments the option of posting public notices on their websites instead of requiring governments to purchase newspaper advertising in newspapers with paid circulation.

If it becomes law, this act will save local governments thousands of dollars every year, and that money will be coming right out of the pockets of paid circulation newspapers, so you can expect them to howl.

For over a hundred years, paid circulation newspapers have had a state-mandated monopoly on public and legal notices. The state requireds that notices be placed in a local newspaper with paid circulation. Advertising on radio or television, billboards, in free publications or on the internet wouldn’t meet the standards currently set in the law, giving paid circulation newspapers a steady and predictable source of income.

Public notices by governmental entities and legal notices placed by attorneys can still be placed in newspapers, but this creates another option – county websites.

It gives counties the option to have legal notices, such as death notices and foreclosures required by state law, posted on their websites and charge fees set by the statute.

The bill stipulates that 50 percent of the revenue from placing legal ads on the website will go to schools to fund teacher supplements. But the other 50 percent will go to the county itself.

So it could become a good source of revenue, not just for the schools but for the country as well.

Unlike a newspaper where much of the cost is in paper and ink, there is little cost in putting a notice on a website. Counties should be able to make a tidy profit on posting legal notices.

Newspapers that do run public notices in their print edition are required, in the bill, to post those same notices on their website at no additional charge.

Companion bills in the Senate and House with heavyweight sponsors in both is a sure sign that this is a bill the leadership in the General Assembly wants to move through the legislature. The bill already has the support of both the League of Municipalities and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

In today’s world it’s hard to argue that the only way to reach the public is with an advertisement in a paid circulation newspaper. Guilford County currently has a population of over 500,000, but the daily circulation of its largest newspaper, the News & Record, is reportedly around 40,000.

A lot of legal notices in Guilford County are placed in the Jamestown News, which has paid circulation, but Jamestown is a town of a little more than 3,000, and the newspaper doesn’t go much beyond the city limits – hardly an effective way to reach the people of Guilford County. Because of the outdated state law, it meets the requirements for legal notices. However, it may not under the new law.

Under the current law, whether you agree with your local daily newspaper or not, you are forced to subsidize it with your taxes because of all the advertising that the city, county and state are forced, by law, to run in the newspaper.

If this bill becomes law, rather than having to subsidize a private corporation with advertising dollars, Greensboro will be able to publish its notices on its own website and Guilford County will not only save money by doing the same, but will be able to make a considerable amount of money by publishing legal notices.

The fees set in the bill the county would charge for posting legal notices on its website are $450 for foreclosures, $100 for other notices required by law and $10 for notices from the state or any political subdivision of the state.

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