Colorado’s newspaper industry is fighting a proposed new law that would phase out the required publication of county public notices.
Proponents of the proposed law, officially called Senate Bill 18-156, say the notices are a waste of taxpayer money because the same financial and salary information is available on county websites.
But the Colorado Press Association makes a case that public notices are still a valuable tool for government transparency, providing a permanent, neutral-party record of important public information.
“Legal notices are a very effective way to communicate with the public on issues that are important to communities,” testified press association lobbyist Greg Romberg at a hearing this week of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
He noted that the print and website reach of Colorado newspapers is much greater than the average traffic on county government websites, according to circulation numbers and data from SimilarWeb. And, Romberg said, a newspaper provides one-stop shopping for all kinds of government public notices so that people don’t have search various government websites.
Public notices published in newspapers around the state also are available on the Public Notice Colorado website.
The committee supported the bill, voting 5-0 to send it the Senate floor.
Under current law, each county is required to publish a monthly expense report and a twice-a-year employee salary report. If SB 18-156 becomes law, beginning Jan. 1, 2020, counties would be permitted to publish the reports on their websites if they also publish a link to the reports in at least one newspaper.
John Cooke, a Republican senator from Greeley who is sponsoring the bill, said Jefferson County spent about $84,000 and Weld County about $14,000 last year publishing the required notices in newspapers.
“This is an unnecessary expense to the taxpayer because all of this information is online,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Tina Francone. The law as currently written is “unfair,” she contended, because the legal notice mandate for counties doesn’t apply to municipalities and other levels of government in Colorado.
Romberg noted that the amount counties spend on public notices is a miniscule portion of their budgets. “I won’t insult you by saying this is not about money,” he said of the press association’s opposition to the bill. “Newspapers are privately run companies … But it’s not just about money.”
“It’s transparency,” said Bob Sweeney, publisher of The Villager newspaper in the south Denver metro area. When people in places like Mesa County or Sterling get their weekly newspapers, they look for the county expense reports, he told the committee. “Believe me, they read ‘em,” Sweeney said. “It’s a bestseller … They want to see how their county money is being spent.”
Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.