Tampa Bay Times Editorial
April 2, 2019
For decades, local governments in Florida have been required to make a straightforward effort to inform residents about upcoming issues directly affecting the quality of life in their community. They have to publish legal notices in the local newspaper. Now there is a renewed effort in the Florida Legislature to abolish that requirement, which would erode open government and make it harder for Floridians to hold their leaders accountable.
With less than 48 hours’ notice, the House Judiciary Committee today will consider legislation that would end the requirement that governments publish legal notices in newspapers. Instead, starting in 2020 those notices would be required to be published on government websites. That is simply not good enough, and lawmakers should reject HB 1235 and stand up for government in the sunshine.
The fate of legal notices is not a new issue. Legislation has been filed in previous years to move the notices away from newspapers, but those efforts have not gotten far. This appears to be a more determined effort. The House bill is suddenly moving halfway through the legislative session and its main sponsor, Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, is among the chamber’s key committee chairmen. So there is reason to be concerned —and plenty of reasons to keep legal notices in newspapers.
Legal notices detail the meat and potatoes of government. They alert citizens about proposed budgets and tax rates for cities, counties, school districts and special taxing districts such as fire districts and water management districts. They also cover topics such as infrastructure plans, changes in land use and other new ordinances. This is how residents may learn their property tax rates are about to go up, or that vacant land next to their neighborhood might become an industrial site.