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Limiting The Public's Right To Know

Keep Legal Notices In Print * Bill Would Hamper Taxpayer Access To Government Information

Hartford Courant

February 08, 2010

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and some lawmakers want to relieve Connecticut municipalities of the cost of unfunded state mandates. Fair enough. But one of the proposals - allowing the posting of certain public notices on government websites rather than publishing them in a daily newspaper - is a bad idea.

It would limit taxpayers' access to vital government information.

Here are examples of the kinds of legal notices that could be harder for the public to find if the legislation - introduced by Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield and Rep. Larry Cafero of Norwalk - is enacted: annual town reports, foreclosure notices, and notices of the date and time of town meetings, hearings on zoning applications, special elections and other bulletins about government that citizens need to be informed.

Newspapers, including The Courant, admittedly have a vested interest in the outcome. We would lose revenue if the bill is passed and municipalities are given a no-cost alternative to newspaper advertising rates.

But the public would lose, too. The cost to democracy would be serious and the public's right to know could be diminished.

Now, public notices appear both in print in the newspaper as well as online, on newspaper websites and on www.CT.PublicNotices.org, an aggregation of all newspaper legal notices, a free service provided by the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association.

The legislation, if passed, would allow public notices to appear exclusively on government websites, despite the fact that less than 10 percent of the U.S. population views a local, state or federal government website daily and more than 25 percent of adults don't even have access to the Internet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By comparison, the National Newspaper Association says that 83 percent of adults read a local newspaper at least once a week.

If passed, the legislation would allow public employees to bury information on websites that is now easily found by readers of daily newspapers. Many more people read newspapers than scan government websites.

Also, newspaper publication of legal notices produces a permanent record while the Internet does not. And a newspaper is archived for years.

Isn't the current system, in which public notices are reliably reproduced in print and also appear online, best for the public interest?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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