RALEIGH — Carteret County was added to a bill making its way through the N.C. House of Representatives that would allow local governments to post public notices to their websites instead of publishing them in the newspaper.
House Bill 51, along with a similar measure, House Bill 35, passed the N.C. House Judiciary IV Committee on a voice vote Tuesday. Current statutes require county and municipal governments to publish legal notices, like public hearings, in newspapers, but the legislation seeks to change that requirement.
The Insider news service reports backers of the measures, versions of which have surfaced often over the past decade, say the switch could help cash-strapped local governments cut advertising costs. The N.C. Association of County Commissioners, which made the public notice change a legislative goal for 2021-22, spoke in favor of the bills Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
Newspapers, led by the N.C. Press Association, oppose the legislation. Washington Daily News publisher Ashely Vansant said if publishing notices in newspapers becomes optional, local government officials could “can dangle that like a carrot if they’re not happy with the coverage or stance of the newspaper.”
The Carteret County News-Times is a member of the NCPA.
Only about a dozen counties are included on each bill so they meet the 14-county threshold to be considered “local” bills, which Gov. Roy Cooper cannot veto. H.B. 51, the “eastern counties” public notices bill, includes Carteret, Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Craven, Gates, Harnett, Hertford, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrell and Washington.
Carteret County Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican who also represents Jones County, told the News-Times she was receiving “huge pressure” from Carteret County commissioners to add the county to the bill, but said she did not support the legislation because she felt it was not “public friendly.”
However, in followup messages sent Tuesday, Rep. McElraft said while she still didn’t agree with it, “I said I would not fight it.”
Carteret County Manager Tommy Burns, however, claimed Rep. McElraft did support the bill, pointing out the fact that Carteret County wouldn’t have been included otherwise, and said it had been a legislative goal of hers and the Carteret County Board of Commissioners for several years.
In September 2020, the board of commissioners adopted the change in public notices as part of its legislative priorities for 2021-22, which were passed on to the NCACC. The list of legislative priorities was included on the consent agenda for September’s meeting, and commissioners did not publically discuss their reason for endorsing the change. Further requests for comments from commissioners about the legislation were not returned.
H.B. 35 and H.B. 51 will need to clear three more House committees before reaching the House floor. The bills also require Senate approval.
Wire services contributed to this report.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.