Florida State Sen. 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 removing these public notices from newspapers and posting them on government-run websites 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 Floridians, 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 notices 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 websites carries with it a potential for abuse.
In addition, the Internet does not provide a reliable archival history. Can we trust a government-sponsored website to be self-regulating?
According to a Scarborough Research Report and the U.S. Census, many Americans still do not use the Internet. Fifty-seven percent of adults over the age of 65, along with 52 percent of Hispanics and 49 percent 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 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.
We have many supporters in our efforts to keep the public noticed, including AARP Florida and the Florida State Conference NAACP.
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 notices to appear on both the Internet and the printed page. To do otherwise is a disservice to Floridians, who deserve an open, free and transparent government.
Matt Meadows, who served in the Florida Legislature from 2000-2008, is chairman of the Keep the Public Noticed Coalition.