Measure to move public notices to government websites passes first committee vote with Carteret included

Two local bills that would allow governments to advertise public notices on their own websites, rather than newspapers, have passed an initial committee vote. One of the bills, House Bill 51, includes Carteret County. (Jackie Starkey photo)

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 elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

(6) comments

mpjeep

Taking Public Notice out of Newspapers is ridiculous. Notices should remain published by an independent third party and accessible to all. Not everyone has access to the internet to get these notices.

Just another sign of politicians taking away part of our constitutional rights, giving the government more control of information, and hiding governmental activities.

Allowing local governments to post public notices to their websites is like having the fox guard the chicken coop.

We should all contact our local lawmakers and voice our displeasure with this bill.

Marcuspa

The government provides the content of public notices. The content will remain the same. Newspapers are practically insignificant as far as getting iNformation to the public especially in small towns. There is nothing unconstitutional in changing the delivery system....The world has changed greatly as some look back on the good ole days.

(Edited by staff.)

mpjeep

Public notices are integral to democratic governance and stem from the right to “due process of law” guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions. Due process of law protects Americans’ rights from arbitrary or wrongful actions.

mpjeep

Newspapers remain the best vehicle for alerting citizens about important government business, especially in small towns.

DeadBolt

No, these lot control their website, so a 'change' would be to 'ADD' another source to the market as it is. Also, it would take virtually nothing as far as expenses. The removal suggests to me deception at a high level. Its called a BAIT AND SWITCH. A form of THEFT. (in a huge public way). I told you folks, both parties are removing ALL YOUR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS slowly but you cannot be this ignorant to think they will be returned. Warfare 101, cut/capture/kill the enemy's COMMUNICATION at all cost. [whistling]

mpjeep

Public Notices Should Be Published by an Independent Third Party.

Welcome to the discussion.

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