Public Notices Online: Getting with the Times
By Rep. Ronald Nate – District 34
January 31, 2018
Good government is transparent government. In today’s Internet age transparency has never been more possible. We can see all kinds of government information online, we get regular social-media updates from people involved in government, and we even live-stream public meetings to see government in “action.” These are great developments and they make our government more accessible and more accountable to the citizens.
Public notices of government activity are essential for citizens to know when and where and how government will be doing the people’s work. Oddly, though, public notices are stuck in the last century as far as accessibility is concerned. Idaho law requires government entities to publish public notices about meetings and other events in local newspapers. It’s expensive and it’s not very transparent.
For state, county, and city governments newspaper publication means extra expense for paying for the advertising space and printing. It also means sometimes delaying meetings because papers do not necessarily publish on every day, and law requires a minimum number of days of advance notice prior to meetings.
The Electronic Public Notice bill (H420) allows governments the option for online publication, but keeping the requirements of meeting all advanced notice timelines, and maintaining a historical record of all published notices. If the bill becomes law, Idaho governments could save millions of dollars in publishing costs.
For example, Madison County would see savings of $13,810. This money might be better spent on public safety, or roads, or other local priorities. One of the larger counties in Idaho estimates their expenses for print publication to be $60,000, Estimates from around the state top $600,000 savings for counties and similar savings for cities. The state government would save hundreds of thousands as well.
Some have asked what this means for citizens who lack internet access. It’s true, not everyone is “wired.” Similarly, though, not everyone gets the paper. This bill would allow local governments to decide what is best for their jurisdictions. No government would be required to abandon print publication, but they may if they choose. They may stay with print in the newspapers. They may choose to do both. Local officials are elected locally, so we should expect them to be responsive to citizens’ needs.
It’s obvious, Internet usage is on the rise, and newspaper print subscriptions are on the decline. It’s time for Idaho government to “get with the times.” City and county governments welcome the opportunity to reduce their publication expenses. Citizens look forward to being able to look up notices online, anytime, rather than searching for the newspaper. This bill is a win-win for both transparency and efficiency .
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