Kentucky lawmakers are again talking about how to balance the need for transparency in local government with the cost of publishing public notices, also known as legal ads, in newspapers around the state.
The discussion this year centers around House Bill 195, legislation sponsored by Rep. Jerry Miller of metro Louisville to remove public notices from newspapers and instead post them to local government websites.
The idea is contrary to the very purpose of public notices -- to inform as many people as possible about public meetings, school budgets, government contracts, tax liens, foreclosures and assorted other government activities.
Government websites are seldom accessed by the public and not everyone, especially those in rural areas, have broadband Internet service to view them online. There'd also the matter of technology and people costs for local governments to distribute this vital information electronically in searchable formats.
Consider here in Madison County. Instead of going to one source to find notices, you'd have multiple online sites to visit -- three separate governments, two school boards, and a plethora of taxing districts. That makes the case for keeping the notices in newspapers, where everyone, no matter their digital availability or savvy, can access them.
The notion of removing public notices from newspapers derives from a myth we are becoming relics and no longer touch as many people as in the past. The opposite is true. We reach more folks than ever -- in print and on our websites and mobile apps. What's more, the notices are checked by the newspapers for errors or missing information before publication.
There's a good reason for keeping public notices in newspapers. They are an independent, trusted and permanent source of government information. Their role is to serve as a watchdog over how tax dollars are spent.
Public notices in newspapers have served the public interest since Kentucky's founding in 1792. They continue to do so today in print and online. The dollars spent by local governments to defer the cost of publishing them is money well spent for transparency and accessibility to Kentuckians everywhere.
We urge readers to contact our state legislators to oppose House Bill 195 in order to preserve the right to know about the financial transactions and activities of your local government.