The Senate has approved, 31-1, legislation that will require newspapers to post public notices on their websites as well as in their print editions with no extra charge starting in April, 2014.
The bill (SB461) faces a House floor vote next week after clearing committees without a dissenting vote. It is sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
In Senate floor debate, Yager noted there has been debate in the past about having public notices posted online on government websites rather than in newspapers with valid arguments on both sides. He said the legislation “tries to take the best of both and combine them into a bill that will preserve independence by allowing someone other than the government to disseminate notices.”
Besides requiring the notices be posted on newspaper websites, the measure also requires each newspaper provide a link to a website where such notices from newspapers statewide will be available. The Tennessee Press Association anticipates operating such a website.
The sole vote against the bill came from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who said he views the measure as “excluding everyone else who is not a Tennessee newspaper” from publishing public notices.
“We’re tryng to create a monopoly for one group, newspapers. I cannot support something that does that,” said Campfield.
Three other senators who in the past have advocated publication of the notices on government websites – Republicans Sens. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Mike Bell of Riceville and Bo Watson of Hixson – said they supported the bill as “a step in the right direction” with online publication. Kelsey and Bell both said they hope future legislation will move away from newspaper publication to save taxpayer money.
In response to a question from Bell, Yager said the April, 2014, effective date was chosen to give newspapers that do not now have websites an opportunity to start them.
Yager noted that Senate passage of the comes during “Sunshine Week,” an annual promotion of the need for open and transparent government. He said the timing is appropriate because the bill will “affirm our belief in the public’s right to know what’s going on in their government.”