If one Kentucky legislator has his way, many Kentuckians could lose access to public information related to their local governing bodies.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who represents District 23 covering a portion of Kenton County, filed Senate Bill 101 last Friday seeking to eliminate the requirement of public notices to be published in the newspaper.
Currently, any new ordinance passed by a city council or fiscal court must be published in that community’s newspaper. In addition to ordinances, items such as zoning changes, tax increases or any other decision made by a governing body that requires the public to have information before the body takes action would be a public notice.
In the event there are two or more newspapers published in that community, the newspaper with the largest paid circulation is considered the newspaper of record for publishing such information.
If McDaniel has his way, governing bodies would simply have to publish a small one-time ad in the newspaper telling citizens that information about a certain action is available at a website. From there, it would be the readers’ responsibility to visit the website and find the information.
That may sound like a good idea to people who embrace technology and enjoy using their laptop, tablet or other device to browse the Web. One problem with it is that according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 64 percent of Americans over the age of 18 use the Internet, and only 35 percent of Americans over 65 use the Internet. That would remove a lot of public information from the sight of a large number of citizens.
For many states with a large rural population, including Kentucky, Internet access is not as widespread as you might think. There are people in our state who do not have Internet access, and others have limited and unreliable service. Those people would also not have reliable access to public notices posted on government websites.
Publishing public notices in newspapers is much more reliable. Newspapers serve as an authentic record of publication and provide sworn affidavits that ads were published, along with physical proof. The stability of local newspapers as a medium for public notices is unquestionable, and government agencies cannot ensure that information located on a server is secure.
While this proposed legislation would remove information from many citizens, it appears that it would also place an additional burden on communities across Kentucky. Should this legislation pass, many small communities that may not already have a website would have to have one, and someone to operate it. For those who already have sites, they will be placed under great pressure to ensure that information is published accurately and in a timely manner in order for the residents of the community to read it.
As a member of the Kentucky Press Association’s board of directors, I and others on the board have been working to contact legislators and let them know where we stand on this issue. Those to whom I have personally spoken realize the importance of public notices being available to as many people as possible, and they indicated that they would not support legislation to take valuable information out of the hands of the people.
It seems clear to me that when it comes to publishing public notices and other information that must be delivered in a reliable and timely manner, newspapers are the only way to go.
You can contact your state senator in Frankfort by calling (800) 372-7181 and let them know where you stand on any issue before the legislature.
Jeff Moreland is the publisher of the Central Kentucky News-Journal and a member of the Kentucky Press Association Board of Directors.