This appeared in the Idaho Falls Post-Register:
Amid the gob of bills grinding through assorted legislative committees in the 2018 session, there’s one repeat bill headed for a full hearing.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, is taking another whack at government transparency by proposing government agencies be allowed to just post required legal notices on their websites rather than in a newspaper, as they’ve done in the state of Idaho since 1919.
Last week in his pitch to the State Affairs committee, Nate argued that some communities no longer have a local newspaper. He said notices and announcements published online would be more readily accessible to people who live in smaller communities.
One has to ponder, why not make it Facebook? Or Twitter? Surely a Tweet storm notice of eviction would be eye-catching. Heck, a YouTube video of someone reading aloud a debtor notice or announcement of name change would surely be the cheapest delivery method of official government business.
Kidding aside, what Nate failed to mention is that all government notices required by state law and that are currently published in newspapers across the state are already accessible (and searchable) through a free online database, administered by the Newspaper Association of Idaho.
Imagine the chaos of having to first find out what state agency webpage one would need to sort through, then the potentially impossible task of finding the correct choice out of the thousands of notices published each and every year. The implication is that newspapers haven’t kept up the delivery of this service when, in fact, the opposite is true.
Not only can you look as far back as 14 months in your search for public notice or announcements at IdahoPublicNotices.com, the website listings don’t cost any more than printed notices, which are fixed at lower rates. Perhaps more importantly, newspapers provide verification that public notices were published in accordance with state law. In the event of a question regarding whether notices were published correctly, which is not uncommon, this service is invaluable.
The Post Register, for example, also has trained personnel who assist agencies and other entities required to publish public notices to be aware of the law’s requirements.
Would it be more affordable to just run it by the state attorney general’s office before posting it in the update feed of a social media platform? Surely Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and his staff have plenty of time to read through hundreds of public notices and announcements that sometimes run into the thousands of words.
Nate’s effort is not a new one. It’s not just the advent of the Internet and the digital age that has newspapers having to prove how effective they are in publishing and delivering to the public government announcements and notices. In 1995, when a bill was introduced in the Idaho Legislature to run public notices on cable television or radio, former editor, publisher and owner of the Post Register, Jerry Brady, wrote in these pages, “Most notices are boring, obscure and complicated. But presented in writing, the public can get the message at little cost to the government. Notice via radio or cable may sound progressive, but what are the chances those who need to know will actually hear or see them? With more than 20 radio stations in most Idaho markets and up to 35 cable channels, broadcasting almost non-stop, chances of actual notice are slim.”
Media is worlds away from where it was in 1995. Twenty radio stations? What about the Salt Lake City radio station I can listen to with an app on my phone? Media — including the Internet and websites — will continue to evolve. But the public in Idaho have relied on printed public notices in the newspaper for going on 100 years. And the fact of the matter is, the addition of a dedicated website for this service has made notices more readily available than ever. It will be no difference five, 10 or 15 years from now.