Bill to Allow Posting Notices Online is Shelved; Pa Newspapers Breath Sigh of Relief
By Jared Edgerton, Contributing Writer
Newspapers across PA are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the the General Assembly decided yesterday against taking up a measure that would eliminate a requirement for local governments to put public notices in newspapers and giving them the option to post notices online.
State Senator John Eichelberger introduced the legislation two weeks ago as a cost-savings measure for local governments, calling the existing law an unfunded “mandate” and that it “does not make a lot of sense anymore.”
Senator Eichelberger, along with Clifford Allen, president of the PA League of Cities and Municipalities, estimated that if local governments could post public notices online it would save millions of dollars, which is currently being spent on advertisement space in newspapers.
The legislation appeared to be gaining traction last week when State Representative Mario Scavello, State Senator John Black and State Senator Robert Robbins vocalized their support.
Representative Scavello stated that he would like to see the law, “tweaked to include free publications” that are handed out in communities. And State Senators Blake and Robbins said they supported the legislation citing that it would still give local governments the option of posting public notices in newspapers.
However, following the proposal several State Reps. and newspapers rallied to preserve the existing law.
In a press conference House Speaker Sam Smith explained his opposition to the bill citing newspapers’ historical role in Pennsylvania’s governing process.
Opponents of the bill also questioned if it would really save local governments money. Deborah Musselman, the director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, contended the bill would save less than 1 percent in local governments’ operating budgets on the borough, township and county levels.
Yesterday, newspapers drove this point home when they took their case to the House Local Government Committee. Martin Till, president and publisher of The Easton Express, warned the committee that revising the existing law would cost 1,000 reporting jobs over the next month.
The final straw seemed to come early today after the Auditor General Jack Wagner sent a letter to General Assembly where he stated his opposition to the bill.
Auditor General Wagner called the legislation potentially damaging for government transparency citing that only “44 percent for those aged 50 to 64 and to 17 percent for those 65 and older” use internet daily while “40 percent of all Americans read a newspaper every day.”