Another legislative session is nearing an end, and it’s been intense. With four weeks remaining as of Messenger deadline, it’s still too early to tell whether newspaper public notice will survive the biennial barrage of nasty legislation, but one thing is certain: Texas publishers have never been more engaged in the legislative process than this year.
Analysis by DONNIS BAGGETT, Texas Press Association
We’re grateful that leaders of the state’s largest and smallest papers have contacted legislators, published columns and editorials about newspaper notice, testified in Austin and filed comments online to make our case. That case can be summed up in one sentence:
Newspapers remain the gold standard for public notice.
After almost two centuries, Texas is still served admirably by public notices published in newspapers and their digital products.
The publication, distribution, certification and archiving of notices by the nation’s oldest and most dependable news medium provides credibility. And credibility is the foundation for trust — a commodity that government can ill afford to lose.
You might think all legislators would get that intuitively, but you’d be wrong. Every session a dozen or more lawmakers push to eliminate newspaper notice requirements in favor of posting notices solely on government websites.
They usually file bad public notice bills after being lobbied by city and county government groups, school districts and special purpose districts. Their common mantra: nobody reads newspapers anymore. Newspaper notices are expensive. We can post these notices on our websites for free.
Well, people don’t call the publisher and fuss about an editorial or late delivery if they don’t read their newspaper.
Expensive? Most governments spend less on newspaper notices than office supplies, but they don’t push for legislation to do away with paperwork. As for posting their own notices online at no cost, what about the expenses for hardware, software, internet access and manpower?
Governments need more notice, not less. Eliminating newspaper notice would mean decreasing public awareness of what government is up to. That might be tempting for city council members nervous about this year’s property tax hike, but they’re actually better off making it public before the tax bill comes in the mail. Taxpayers don’t appreciate surprises like that.
Citizens who are kept in the dark feel that government is trying to take advantage of them. Distrust leads to a lack of confidence and divisiveness.
A new survey by a group called More in Common reveals that Texans are sick of divisiveness.
A whopping 81 percent of respondents said we have more in common than what divides us.
The pollsters surveyed 4,000 people living in Texas. Compared to most political surveys, which interview only 500 or 1,000 people, that’s huge. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.92 percent, which is tiny compared to most surveys.
It would have been interesting to ask those 4,000 folks this question: Which is better for Texans — less notice about what government is doing, or more?
Texas newspapers know the answer. Our task is to make sure our readers, local officials and legislators know it, too.