House panel nixes online publication for public notices

DENVER — The time may come when it makes sense to allow counties to place their public notices online, but that day isn’t here, a majority of the members of a House panel concluded Thursday.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Local Government Committee voted 9-4 to kill a measure that would have given counties the authority to place measures on their local ballots asking voters if they want to have county public notices posted in local newspapers or on a county’s website.

Rep. Timothy Dore, R-Elizabeth and sponsor of the bill, said that while it wouldn’t result in a huge savings for counties, it would be a savings in taxpayer dollars.

“The counties here are subsidizing a lot of our newspapers, especially in small, rural communities,” Dore said. “There’s nothing in this legislation that mandates newspapers from not being an option. It just takes the mandate out that newspapers are your only option.”

Dore said government transparency would increase if such notices are published on the Internet, an issue that Republicans and Democrats alike questioned.

“There’s a paradox in your presentation,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs. “You started by talking about rural counties and their budget challenges, and yet I hear ... that the areas that are least served by broadband and have least access to Internet communications are our rural counties.”

Dore and other supporters of the bill on the committee said not everyone wants access to such notices, and those who do will find a way.

“The reality is that a lot of people who look at these legal notices are looking at tax lien filings, and they have the resources to access that information,” said Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita.

Several other committee members said that while an increasing number of newspapers are going online, and may entirely publish online one day, they aren’t yet.

At the same time, not everyone in the state can afford to purchase smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

Representatives of the Colorado Press Association told the committee that county commissioners aren’t the best people to decide how to disseminate information about what they are doing.

“This bill’s based on the assumption that county officials, if left to their own devices, would voluntarily find the best possible ways to inform the public about their official actions. Are you kidding me?” said Steve Henson, managing editor of the Pueblo Chieftain and a past president of the CPA.

“I’m in my 40th year practicing journalism in southern Colorado, and I have yet to come across a local official who has said, ‘I want to make sure that as many people as possible show up for our next meeting so they can criticize what I have to say.’ ”



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