Sunshine Week: Minnesota Associated Press used the St. Cloud Times story as the basis for report
Monday, March 17, 2014
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
Minn. cities, counties question printing mandate
Eds: Updates with details of bill, quotes from bill sponsor, lobbyists for and against the measure.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Local governments are pushing back on a state law that requires school districts and other public offices to publish legal notices in local newspapers.
Most cities and counties already communicate with residents through websites and social media. Officials say it doesn’t make sense to waste tax dollars to post redundant notices in newspapers, the St. Cloud Times reported (http://on.sctimes.com/1lGGnqc) in a story published Saturday.
A bill at the state Capitol would allow local governments to skip printing legal notices in newspapers. Supporters say the move would save money and also put information where more residents will see it.
"More and more people are going online to get information, and less so going to newspapers,” said Ann Lindstrom, a lobbyist with the League of Minnesota Cities.
Under the current law, cities, counties and districts have to publish notices such as meeting agendas and minutes, new ordinances, financial reports, notices of elections and sample ballots. That list wouldn’t change under the new measure.
The bill was authored by two St. Cloud lawmakers: Republican Sen. John Pederson and DFL Rep. Zachary Dorholt. The measure would allow cities, counties and districts to publish notices online only, although the entity would also have to make printed copies available at its main office and at public libraries.
Pederson said the counties, cities and townships within his district spend a combined $100,000 per year to publish legal notices. He said the state handed down the requirement without providing funding, leaving it to local officials to shoulder an increasingly unnecessary burden.
"I’m an advocate for local control,” Pederson said. "The more decisions that are made more locally, I think, the better off residents are.”
Beau Berentson, a policy analyst with the Association of Minnesota Counties, said 43 of the state’s counties have passed resolutions of support for the bill.
The newspaper industry opposes the bill. Several papers have run editorials arguing that the money is being well-spent because it’s keeping residents informed of official business.
"This is important information, and it has some value,” said Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
He added that many papers that print public notices also duplicate the information on their own websites as well — websites that often draw more traffic than city and county ones do.
The fate of the bill is unclear. It received a lengthy hearing before a Senate committee last month, but no further hearings have been scheduled in either legislative body.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com