For generations, the North Carolina legislature and mainstream newspapers have had a cozy and unhealthy relationship.
The legislature gave newspapers special privileges and the newspapers wrote glowing stories about the legislature. They were all Democrats, so everything was hunky-dory. Raleigh was one big love fest when the legislature was in session.
That all changed when Republicans took over the state government in 2012.
This week, state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) took another step in ending the preferential treatment that mainstream newspapers have received from state government.
Senate Bill 436 is simple. All the bill filed by Wade does is take out one paragraph in a state statute regarding employees.
The paid circulation newspapers had a special clause inserted in the state law that specifically exempted people who deliver newspapers from being employees. Because of this exemption, which only applied to newspapers and magazines, the people who delivered and collected the subscription payments for these publications were not considered employees, which has been a huge cost savings for newspapers.
Because the delivery personnel for newspapers had this specific exemption, the newspapers didn’t have to pay the people delivering newspapers a salary, provide unemployment insurance, cover them with workers’ compensation insurance or even pay them minimum wage.
Isn’t it interesting that the liberal mainstream media – which is always demanding that the minimum wage be increased – had its workers, who would normally be covered by the minimum wage law, exempted from that law?
The bill, if it passes, will bring mainstream newspapers in line with the labor laws that apply to other businesses in the state.
And you can expect the mainstream newspapers to howl about how unfair it is for them to be forced to comply with the laws that the newspapers support strengthening for other businesses.
The passage exempting newspapers from the state law may have made some sense when newspapers were delivered by boys on bicycles, but for decades now newspapers have been primarily delivered by adults in vehicles and the law has never been changed to keep up with the times.
Last week, Wade in the Senate and Rep. John Blust (R-Greensboro) in the House filed companion bills that would remove the monopoly that state law provides for mainstream newspapers for public and legal advertising.
This is advertising that is required by state law and, in another sweetheart deal, the advertising not only has to be purchased, but it has to be purchased from a newspaper with paid circulation.
No other form of advertising would meet the requirements of the law. The paid advertising by governments and by attorneys had to be placed in a newspaper with paid circulation.
Even if you went door to door and put a notice at every dwelling in the city, that would not meet the legal requirement for public notice.
The new law filed by Wade and Blust will allow notices to be placed on government websites and provides counties with the option of selling space on their websites for public and legal notices. If it passes, the bill would take some of that revenue that now has to be spent with paid circulation newspapers and divert it to the counties.
The law also requires that the counties allocate 50 percent of the revenue collected from selling legal and public notice advertising for teacher supplements.
The fact that the bill was introduced in the House and Senate and has heavyweight sponsors in both is a good indication that the Republican leadership supports the bill and it is highly likely that it will pass.
What it surprising is – with the mainstream newspapers opposing just about everything the Republican legislature has done for the past four years – it has taken so long for these bills to be introduced.