Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation proposed by the Tennessee Press Association that requires all public notices printed in newspapers to be published on the newspapers’ local website and a statewide aggregate website maintained by TPA.
The law requires that legal notices be posted on the local and statewide websites at no additional cost and effort to those placing notices. It also requires higher visibility for notices on newspaper websites.
SB461 passed the Senate 31-1 on March 14. The House companion (HB1001) was approved by the House 94-1 on March 25.
TPA President Michael Williams, editor and publisher of The Paris Post-Intelligencer, praised the General Assembly action. He noted the legislation was in response to recent proposals to move public notices out of newspapers and to government websites exclusively – part of a national pattern.
”We hope that this bill will help stop some of the attacks on public notices in Tennessee’s newspapers. Newspapers are in the mass communication business. Government is not,” Williams said. ”No other communication medium provides wider distribution of public notices than community newspapers and their websites.”
State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, the primary Senate sponsor, and state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, prime House sponsor, both cited ”increased transparency” as a reason to support the legislation. The bill had 23 co-sponsors in the House.
Yager, an attorney and Roane County mayor for two decades, praised the press association for being ”pro-active” on the issue and stressed to colleagues that public notices are a key component of ”openness in government” and should stay in an independent medium.
”This bill recognizes the public’s right to know what is going on in their government,” Yager said. ”Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity in the process. To even give the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices tarnishes the reputation of government because it undermines the concept of independence and transparency.”
Haynes explained that newspapers were willing to absorb the extra expense of web postings because ”they are committed to open government, and this is one more service they can provide to make government more open and more transparent. To give more people the opportunity to see public notices, they’re willing to take on that cost.”
Many TPA-member newspapers, including The Elk Valley Times, in recent years have published legal and public notices on their websites and uploaded them to www.tnpublicnotice.com at no extra cost.