Matt Walsh: Preserving public notice


Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.

This session the Legislature acted decisively on threats to public notice, rebuffing attempts to disenfranchise large groups of Floridians.

The attempts to reduce Floridians’ right to know during the 2013 legislative session came in many forms, including threats on public notice related to personal and real property of individuals, sale of surplus government property and notice of local schools' performance.

Other harmful measures involved a proposal to remove the second or subsequent foreclosure notice requirement from a local newspaper and newspaper’s website and allowing it to be posted only on a third-party website. Another suggested implementing broad and vague language that would allow the posting of public notices to virtually any unknown website, rather than publishing the public notice in a local newspaper and on its website, which is already required by law and where the public is accustomed to finding such notices.

Had the Legislature permitted notices to be posted on unproven websites, with no community relationship or public accountability, or eliminated the public notice requirement in print newspapers altogether, these measures would have dramatically diminished and harmed the public’s right to know.

Thankfully, this dangerous language was amended out of legislation or never heard. Legislators continue to back the clear message that their voting constituency believes preserving public notice and ensuring Floridians continue to find this critical information in a trusted, reliable source -- their local newspapers -- remains a top priority of the Legislature.

Some claimed this session that these measures were needed to bring Florida into the digital age. This is a misleading. Research continues to show that Floridians still regularly read print newspapers and consider them a source of valuable information. In fact, Scarborough Research (Multi Market 2012 Release 2) found that 60 percent of Floridians surveyed had read a print edition newspaper in the past seven days.

Further, the Florida Press Association helped draft and fully supported tech-friendly legislation that passed during the 2012 session. The legislation embracing the digital age was aimed at housing public notices not only in print newspapers, but also online. This legislation requires newspapers to publish all public notices on two recognized Internet sites –- their own and floridapublicnotices.com. Additionally, the legislation requires all newspapers send notices by email to anyone who requests them. This common-sense policy ensures that the broadest possible audience has access to this critical information -– in print and online.

The Florida Press Association and Floridians are grateful for the Legislature’s approach to public notice and its vigilance throughout the just-completed legislative session. Together, we thank our state’s policymakers for protecting and preserving public notice and the public’s right to know.

Matt Walsh is chairman of the Florida Press Association.

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