Florida State Senator Charlie Dean (R-Inverness) recently proposed a bill that would remove legal advertisements and public notices from appearing in Florida’s local newspapers. He suggests that by removing these public notices from newspapers and posting them on government run web sites will save taxpayers money. That may be true initially, but at what cost?
This bill has the potential to undermine the Government-in-the-Sunshine law by disenfranchising many of Florida’s citizens, particularly when our state has made tremendous strides in making state and local government actions more accessible to the public. We believe that an open government provides the best assurance of one that is responsive to the needs of the people.
Removing this valuable information from newspapers, such as notice for public budgets, public hearings, government contracts and purchases, would destroy third-party neutrality. Making government officials responsible for notifying the public on their own web sites carries with it a potential for abuse. In addition, the Internet does not provide a reliable archival history. Can we trust a government sponsored web site to be self regulating?
In addition, according to a Scarborough Research Report and the U.S. Census, a number of Americans still do not use the Internet. Fifty-seven percent of adults over the age of 65, along with 52% of Hispanics and 49% of African Americans do not use the Internet. Florida now is second in the nation in home foreclosures, thus the need for public awareness is at an all time high.
Floridians have a right to know how local, state and federal entities are spending their hard-earned tax dollars, as well as a right to know about the governmental decisions that affect their daily lives. Independent public notice and the right to due process of law are among our most important checks and balances.
As chairman of the Keep the Public Noticed Coalition, whose members include AARP Florida, the Florida State Conference NAACP, and La Gaceta Newspaper, we believe it responsible for public notices to remain within local newspapers as well as posted on the Internet.
Our Founding Fathers believed in the people’s right of access to government meetings and records. We believe this right may be preserved by allowing public notice to appear on both the Internet and the printed page. To do otherwise is a disservice to the Floridians who deserve an open, free and transparent government.
Senator Matt Meadows
Chair, Keep the Public Notice Coalition