The General Administration and Elections held a bill Wednesday morning that would have enabled to municipalities to save money by publishing public notices online. By not acting on it, the committee effectively killed the bill for the session.
Committee Chairman Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, said there hasn’t been a whole lot of support for the measure from the general public. Many feel the measure is too prompt, considering there are large segments of the state’s population without reliable access to the internet, he said.
“People that don’t have access to the internet or computers, that rely on getting their information from the papers, feel that they would not have access,” he said.
Morin said computer-savvy people accustom using the internet generally support the measure. But others who either can’t afford the technology or are uncomfortable with computers, are used to being able to go to a library or pick up a newspaper for public notices.
“Ultimately, there’s got to be some wording changes on how we deal with this,” he said.
Morin said he understands there are valid reasons for the concept but recalled from his time as the mayor of Wethersfield, that locals would get frustrated whenever the issue was raised.
The bill’s death was welcome news for state’s newspapers, which publish the notices as a revenue source.
Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association Executive Director Chris VanDeHoef said if the measure had eventually been adopted, cities and towns would likely pull the notices from papers, a move that would be especially painful for smaller papers. But it would impact larger publications as well, he said.
Chris Powell, managing editor at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, said given the current economic climate, that loss of revenue could be especially difficult for newspapers to weather.
“Withdrawal of government’s legal advertising would be enormously damaging to Connecticut’s newspapers, the primary sources of local news, the more so amid the current recession, which has sharply reduced other advertising,” he said.
Aside from the financial considerations, publishing notices in local newspapers makes sense, Powell said. It offers access to a regular local audience, something that municipal websites aren’t likely to ever provide, he said.
While the Newspaper Association does not hide from the fact that the notices are a serious revenue source, VanDeHoef said the issue also presents significant public policy arguments. Many towns conduct bidding for smaller projects through notices published in newspapers he said.
“There’s a lot of smaller businesses that respond to RFPs in newspapers, on things like snow plowing or lawn work. A lot of guys actually just bring the clip in from the newspaper and submit that with their proposal,” he said. “They run a plow truck, they don’t have computers.”