Under the Dome

Debate renewed on newspaper legal notices

Competing ideas on where local governments should be required to publish legal notices once again are being aired in the legislature.

Newspaper companies want counties and cities to continue placing notices in their papers and on their websites, saying those offer the widest public reach. State law requires most local governments to publish legal ads in newspapers. Local governments want to change that, and are pushing for the option to post notices only to their government websites, saying that the change will save them money. The fight over publication of legal ads has been ongoing in the state legislature for years.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Raleigh Republican, has filed a bill that the N.C. Press Association supports. It would require notices be placed on newspaper websites the same day they appear in print at no additional cost. Governments would get 15 percent discounts on notices that must be published more than once. A companion bill has been filed in the Senate.

Publication in print and on a website help maximize the opportunity for public awareness of government business, Avila said.

“Society is not at a point where we can stop newspapers and go 100 percent to the internet,” she said. The state still has connectivity issues, and some people are unable to sign up for internet service, she said.

“We have to be careful when we limit their ability to gather information,”Avila said.

Local governments want to be able to scrap print publication of legal ads. A bill Sen. Trudy Wade, a Greensboro Republican, filed would give cities and towns the option of publishing notices on their websites instead of in newspapers. Notices would be mailed or emailed to people who ask.

Web publication would get information “to more people if they had a computer at home or in the library,” she said.

Kevin Leonard, executive director of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, said the issue isn’t public access – which government websites provide – but government helping to subsidize newspapers.

“Some smaller newspapers are relying on this revenue for their survival,” Leonard said, and the question is whether counties should be required to supply that money.

Les High, editor of the News Reporter in Whiteville, said newspaper websites are better for legal notices.

“Content is so important,” he said. People “won’t go to government websites to see news.”

A news conference supporting the bill requiring continued newspaper publication of notices is scheduled for Tuesday. It coincides with Sunshine Week, an annual effort by media and open government advocates to spotlight the importance of openness and transparency in government affairs.

Guard gun bill passes

A bill to allow off-duty correctional officers to carry concealed weapons has passed the state Senate and is now in the House for consideration.

The bottom line is the safety of those officers and their families, said bill sponsor Sen. Shirley Randleman, a Wilkes County Republican.

“There’s a recent trend which reflects an increase in frequency of threats and assaults on staff by our prison population both inside and outside of the prison facilities,” she told senators before a floor vote.

During committee review a day before, former Democratic state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird urged opposition to the bill, arguing too many guns are floating in public as it is. A Randleman-submitted amendment adopted on the floor clarified that if the concealed weapon is a handgun, the correctional officer must meet state firearms training standards.

Lynn Bonner and Benjamin Brown