Electronic notices bill quashed - for now
Sponsor says he was pressured by unnamed news organization
JUNEAU-The sponsor of a bill that would allow municipalities to post certain public notices online rather than in newspapers said Tuesday that he asked that the bill be pulled from the House floor to protect his colleagues.
“I wasn't going to put my members in the position of having to vote on a matter that I have heard from so many of them was going to cause them problems with their local newspapers,” Rep. Mike Hawker said in an interview.
HB275 was on the House calendar a week ago Monday, but it was sent to the House Rules Committee at Hawker's request. The committee is where bills sometimes go for additional work or until there is sufficient support for them to pass.
On Feb. 18, Rep. Eric Feige (R-District 6) told the Valdez Star he believed the bill was dead.
The bill can be changed again in the Rules Committee, die there due to lack of consideration or sent back to the full house either amended or as it stood Monday.
Hawker, R-Anchorage, had cast the bill as part of an effort toward making government agencies more efficient while not compromising the public's need to know. The bill sailed through two committees with do-pass recommendations. It would require state agencies with the technological capabilities to post reports on the state's online public notice system. Printed copies would still be provided to the state library for permanent archiving and produced if required by agreement or federal law or approved by an agency head, Hawker has said, and people also could still request copies. The bill also would limit when state agencies could hire contractors for photos or graphics for reports.
The more controversial element would give municipalities the option of posting mill rate, foreclosure and redemption of foreclosure notices on municipal websites that are accessible to the public instead of being published in newspapers.
Some newspaper publishers have said they're concerned about the effect that could have on the public's access to information about their government.
At a House State Affairs Committee hearing last week, there was no testimony in opposition.
Hawker said a newspaper organization that did not place its concerns on the record during public testimony requested over the weekend that he withdraw the bill. He said he would not identify the group.
“I think it's extremely poor form, and I frankly think it's just absolutely inappropriate for any organization that feels they have a stake in the outcome of legislation, especially when it's a financial outcome, not to place that on the record,” he said.
House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, told reporters Tuesday the proposal would be turning “public notices into public search.”
He said people across Alaska do not have the same access to the Internet.
“We just want to make sure, again, that we're protecting the public, we're protecting the public's best interest and we're standing up for Alaskans,” Tuck said.
Tuck said he'd heard more on the issue from fellow legislators than anyone. He said there may not have been opposition early on, but the more people talked, the more one could see how it could put some Alaskans at a disadvantage.
Bill Kunerth, the publisher of the Fairbanks Daily-News Miner, said he wrote a letter expressing his concerns to local legislators. He said he wished he had had the chance to testify but said the bill seemed to be moving fast and it hadn't been on his radar earlier on.
“Now that we've had a little bit of time to respond, legislators have had time to absorb it, I think that people are realizing what this bill is all about,” he said in an interview. “And it's not about anything but the right thing to do, and that is to inform the public in the best way possible. And that's historically been through the newspapers, and it's still where people look for that type of information and where we feel we still affect the most people. That's the main issue.”
Tena Williams, co-publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News, said if there is a problem, she is willing to talk about it.
“I don't know that I would have a different point of view after the discussion, but at least people working together usually can resolve things,” she said. “And I just feel like this kind of came out of nowhere at us, kind of on a fast track, and nobody likes that.”