Online Public Notice Bill Rocks the Boat in Illinois

   By Diane S.W. Lee (Illinois Statehouse News) - 3/28/11  - All of those public notices printed in the newspaper will stay put, at least for now.
    House Bill 1869 proposed to move public notices printed in newspapers to local government and school district websites. The plan is stuck in House Rules Committee, traditionally known as a death sentence for legislation.
    As chief sponsor, state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said his proposal was meant to spark discussion.
    “It gave both parties, both sides of the argument, a reason to come and talk and see how they could make the notice requirements better,“ Mautino said, “while still requiring, and allowing for transparency, but possibly saving some money in the process for those that are required by the laws to report.”
    Local governments and school districts must print public notices in local newspapers to announce any action using tax dollars, such as upcoming public meetings or bids for government contracts. Under the proposal, the notices would still have to publish a note in a newspaper to refer readers to a website where the public notice is posted.
    But the shift could mean less money for newspapers, which have been struggling financially in recent years. Local governments only would have to buy and print a small reference, not the larger and more expensive full public notice.
    The Illinois Press Association, which represents roughly 480 newspapers statewide, opposed the measure. Josh Sharp, the association’s director of government relations, disagrees with the idea to move notices from newspapers to government websites.
    “That theory of how this process will work is dead,” he said. “We seem to be moving on now towards somehow finding some middle ground in terms of reformatting some notices and maybe combining notices.”
    Sharp said he hopes the plan will turn into a “cleanup effort” to change the consistency in size and formatting of public notices.
    State Rep. Michael Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, agreed the plan needs to be worked on “at length” to address some concerns of the media and public interest groups.
    “There are lots of different types of notices that could be reshaped, reformatted and provide better information,” he said.
    Tryon, a co-sponsor of the plan, said more people are turning to the Internet for news and information.
    “It shouldn’t be considered as an attack on the freedom of information at all,” Tryon said. “I think that the people that are working on it are trying to make it easier to access information.”
    David Morrison, deputy director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the information about what local school boards and local governments are planning would not disappear under the proposed law. He points out that a lot of people are looking to their computer for information, and the public information would be included.
    "There would still be a notice in the newspaper," Morrison said. "But getting it onto the Internet where Google or any Web crawler that could get a hold of it might make it more accessible to the public."
   Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News (originally posted 3/25/2011).