Change in public notice ill advised
When the Minnesota Legislature first passed the law requiring the publication of notices in legal newspapers lawmakers knew the printing of the information would come at a certain cost. They knew that service wouldn’t be provided for free and yet the dissemination of information for the public was deemed to be important enough to justify the expenditures.
It’s still important that information contained in legal notices be available to a wide number of citizens, not just those who might peruse a county’s website.
Legislation is expected to be considered this year to relax the requirement for publications in legal newspapers and let counties post it on their websites only, if they so choose.
If the Legislature passes this short-sighted legislation it could automatically take away easy access to such notices from the estimated 20 to 30 percent of the public that does not have home computers.
Counties are receiving value, particularly in terms of readership, for the money they spend in newspapers. Look at the numbers in Crow Wing County. The Brainerd Dispatch (Crow Wing County’s legal newspaper) had 247,414 unique or first-time visitors to its website in January. Crow Wing County’s website had 48,633 unique visitors in July of 2013, which were the most recent numbers available because of a vendor change. In addition, the newspaper had 1,416,000 page views in January.
The Echo Press of Alexandria recently commended the Douglas County Board for its rejection of a resolution supporting a change in the public notice law.
“Having a printed permanent record of public notices, maintained by a source independent of government interference, is crucial to ensuring that information is not changed after the fact,” the Echo Press wrote in an editorial.
The Crow Wing County Board unanimously voted in favor of letting counties designate their own websites to satisfy the state requirements to publish notices.
Lawmakers should ask themselves if the public is being well served by the current law. If the answer is yes it should reject legislation to change way information is provided to the public.