Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom will be looking at charitable donations, background checks for those who work with children and the elderly, and a proposal to fund school maintenance projects in Washoe County. [RGJ] There are some other bills of interest getting some attention this week, including AB 4.
AB 4: AN ACT relating to governmental administration; authorizing the State or a local government, under certain circumstances, to publish a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website maintained by the State or local government in lieu of publishing the legal notice or legal advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation; requiring the State or a local government to publish certain information in a newspaper of general circulation if the State or local government publishes a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website; authorizing a public body to charge and collect a fee for providing, upon request, a copy of certain public records under certain circumstances; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.
AB 4 will be discussed in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, on Thursday at 8:00 A.M. I think we can assume that the Nevada Press Association will object to the measure, contending — as they do on their website — that:
“A fundamental reason for public notices is government accountability to its constituents. The notices are published through an independent party — the newspaper — to create a verifiable record of the date they were published and show that the content met legal requirements. Without such verification, government would be accountable only to itself.”
Delving a step further, public notices must be published in newspapers having a general circulation, as defined and refined:
“To meet the test of general circulation, a newspaper must publish some news of general interest and circulate to the general public. Under NRS 238.030, which provides for publication of legal notices in a newspaper “of general circulation,” a daily newspaper which contained only information taken from public records did not qualify because primary purpose of printing legal notices is to give widest publicity practicable, and a newspaper, in order to meet test of general circulation, must publish some news of general interest and circulate to some extent among general public. Nevada State Press Association v. Fax. Inc., 79 Nev. 82, 378 P.2d 674 (1963).” [CCNLN]
Thus, a newspaper which publishes daily, weekly, or semi-weekly, which has a “general” circulation, and contains some “general” news becomes the “independent verifier” of public notice and the requirements pertaining thereto. This becomes controversial when we reach the part wherein counties must publish their property tax rolls.
The price tag for publishing the property tax information required of Clark County is a hefty $580,000. [LVSun] Advocates for the newspapers hold that the price is the cost of a transparent government, opponents argue that if the information is readily available on-line (and can be verified) there is no reason to pay for what is essentially a duplication of notice.
Another question which could be raised in this context, i.e. who’s being notified. The Las Vegas Review Journal has a circulation of approximately 220,619 copies; the Las Vegas Weekly has a circulation of 75,000; the Reno Gazette Journal is reported to have a circulation of 43,095. [link] We could speculate that the major newspaper publishers in Nevada are facing some of the same numbers as their national counterparts — that is, they are looking at decreased circulation of approximately 5% annually. [LAT] The trends reported in the Los Angeles Times were predicated on (1) readership moving to on-line sources, (2) the reduction of distribution to outlying areas and bulk distributions, (3) increasing prices for print copies of newspaper publications. Trends similar to the 2010 results were noted by the New York Times in 2009.
The Pew Research report of its study on newspaper readership issued in 2012 wasn’t very optimistic:
“In the new survey, only 29% say they read a newspaper yesterday, with just 23% reading a print newspaper. Over the past decade, the percentage reading a print newspaper has fallen by 18 points (from 41% to 23%). Somewhat more (38%) say they regularly read a daily newspaper, although this percentage also has declined, from 54% in 2004. Figures for newspaper readership may not include some people who read newspaper content on sites that aggregate news content, such as Google News or Yahoo News.”
Two graphics illustrate the issue concisely.
When there’s an 18% drop in newspaper readership since 2002, the question should be raised: Who is being notified, to whom is information being verified, when the state or local governments are publishing information to a progressively smaller number of people?
The newspaper publishers have a valid point in saying that some independent agency should verify the context of the public notices required by law. On the other hand, it’s hard to contend that the publication of notices and information doesn’t constitute a form of public subsidization of a private news enterprise. Another issue concerns the type of information required.
Do we need to publish hard copies of the property tax rolls? Yes, some readers do use the information to compare property values; but, yes, others are simply nosy parkers who delight in seeing which of the neighbors might be delinquent in their property tax payments. Is there a substantive difference between publishing property tax rolls and information like requests for bids on government capital improvement projects costing more than $250,000? Here’s hoping the Government Affairs Committee will take a careful, and thoughtful, look at the implications of public notice requirements.
A bit more blatant blog flogging: The Fix is seeking nominations for state based political blogs to add to its annual list. Your nomination for Desert Beacon would definitely be appreciated. Link Here.