Legislation Would Take Legal Notices From Paper

AP

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Two Chattanooga-area lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow the city and Hamilton County to post legal notices on their official web sites instead of paying to publish them in the newspaper.

Acting at Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's request, Republican Rep. Vince Dean of East Ridge said he introduced the bill and believes "it's time to start having a conversation about what role the Internet will play in the future on public notice."

Littlefield spokesman Richard Beeland told the Chattanooga Times Free Press it's all about saving taxpayers money.

"We're paying the Times Free Press $75,000 a year by advertising things that we could put on our website and people could get to just as easily," Beeland said.

The measure is among several this year that deal with publishing notices in general circulation newspapers, including a bill that would advertise foreclosure notices on the Tennessee secretary of state's web site.

State law requires local governments to place legal notices in a newspaper of "general circulation," so governments cannot use online publications or their own websites as sole distributors of information.

Chattanooga Times Free Press President Jason Taylor said citizens count on their printed media for public notices on everything from government meetings, bid solicitations, hearings, government meetings, financial disclosures and foreclosures.

"The public relies on daily newspapers for this information published in a reliable, centralized, readily accessible manner. Requiring printed public notices helps keep our government open and transparent," Taylor said.

Notices issued electronically could be manipulated or hidden on websites that would create hardship for citizens seeking critical information, Taylor said.

Republican Sen. Bo Watson of Hixson has introduced the Senate version of the bill, which would affect Hamilton County.

Frank Gibson with the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government said a 2010 survey of state residents showed "the biggest problem is that there are huge chunks of the population that do not have access to the Internet."

He said one in four people in Tennessee don't own a computer and the number is higher among elderly residents.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he has spoken to city officials about the proposal.

"I'd say on the surface it sounds like a good deal because there's an opportunity to save some taxpayer dollars," he told the newspaper. "We spend a lot of money having to put out legal notices."

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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