OUR VIEW: Keep public notices public

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, May 4, 2022

If one Louisiana legislator has his way, many Louisianans could lose access to public information related to the business of their local governing bodies.

State Sen. Fred Mills has filed Senate Bill 322, seeking to eliminate the 70-year-old law requiring public notices to be published in newspapers.

If this bill passes, it is the citizens who will suffer.

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Currently, any new ordinance passed by a city council or fiscal court must be published in that community’s newspaper of record. 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.

In addition to ordinances, items such as zoning changes, tax increases and other important decisions made by a governing body that require the public to be informed before the body takes action are considered public notices. The notices are published after the governing body has the first reading of the ordinance, allowing the public an opportunity to be aware and potentially voice any concerns prior to the second and final reading that would pass the ordinance.

If SB 322 becomes law, that information would no longer be required to be published in print. Instead, the bill would allow public notices to be published on the governmental entity’s website instead of using the local newspaper, which not only displays the notices on the permanent record in print where it can’t be modified but also employs a third party to verify the information at no cost to the government or taxpayer.

Under current law, once verified, the public notices are published online at louisianapublicnotice.com, where people cannot only access public notices but set criteria to have specific notices sent to them via email or text messages as they appear. The louisianapublicnotice.com website also links to https://usalegalnotice.com, where almost any public notification in the U.S. can be accessed, all in one convenient location. Again, this is all done with no additional expense to the government or the taxpayer. The proposed law would require citizens to visit hundreds of different websites to access a public notice with no verification.

This bill comes with multiple issues that prove it is not in the best interest of the public.

The government has a fundamental responsibility to ensure adequate notification to the public of its actions. That responsibility cannot be abandoned in favor of cost savings that may prove to be elusive in light of a decrease in effective public notice. Furthermore, placing the responsibility of notifying the public in the hands of government officials carries with it a potential for abuse. For example, it may create the temptation to change or manipulate the timing of public notices.

Another problem is the limited availability of internet access to many Louisiana families. Even in 2022 there are homes in all parts of the state that don’t have reliable internet access, and SB 322 would limit their access to important information.

Publishing public notices in newspapers is much more reliable than the internet. Newspapers serve as an authentic record of publication and provide sworn affidavits that the information was published, along with the physical proof of the actual issue of the paper. The stability of local newspapers as a medium for public notices is unquestionable. The internet, on the other hand, remains highly vulnerable and unstable. Power surges, computer problems and downed servers can prevent access at any given time.

There is no need to change a system that is already working in the private sector and place the responsibility of maintaining transparency in the hands of the government, which would then serve as its own keeper

Citizens of any community should be able to easily find information about what’s happening with their local government, and newspapers are the best way to get that information to them.

We encourage our readers to contact District 25 State Senator Mark Abraham at 337-475-3016 or abrahamm@legis.la.gov to let him know that you want to keep the lights on for the public when it comes to government transparency.