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TEXAS PRESS ASSOCIATION -TALKING POINTS
The purpose of public notices is to make citizens aware of governmental actions and intent. That’s why the Texas Constitution and numerous Texas statutes require them.
Newspapers’ readership far exceeds that of any other medium. The number of print readers, combined with online readers, makes total newspaper penetration most attractive to anyone who must reach a mass audience.
Regardless of the market size, newspaper online traffic is consistently much higher than readership of governmental websites. While newspapers, in print and online, are seen as a “go-to” independent source for reliable and consistent local information, local governmental websites have a very small sliver of readership.
Texas newspapers not only publish public notices in print and on their websites, but they combine all their notices into a free, searchable statewide website. Readers can even sign up for email notifications whenever a notice regarding an area of interest to them is filed. All this is at no extra charge to the governmental entity.
Texas law requires that newspapers print public notices at their lowest published classified rate, so the taxpayer is getting a bargain. The fees are used to help defray the hard costs of paper, ink, delivery and the personnel cost of producing the pages and the online components.
Many governmental entities already post their notices online, in addition to publishing them in the newspaper. But if the notices were only available on those government sites, they would be seen only by citizens who actively seek them out and can be found only by those who: have online access; are aware of the myriad of governmental entities whose sites they should scour for notices (Harris County alone has about 500 governmental entities); and have the expertise to locate notices that may be buried within a governmental website. A newspaper notice, however, can and often is “discovered” by a reader who is simply reading the paper with his morning coffee.
Discovering a governmental notice may be how a citizen first hears of governmental plans that have an important impact on him, actions such as annexations, zoning changes, school attendance zone revisions, tax increases, bond issues, large governmental purchases, or planned projects with environmental impacts such as landfills, etc.
The elderly, the poor, minorities and rural residents are statistically less likely to have internet access than other groups. Eliminating print notice would effectively disenfranchise these citizens from civic involvement.
The independent third-party approach to publishing and archiving public notices is a critically important element of government transparency and accountability.
Income from published legal notices helps pay the expenses of printing the newspaper. If newspaper notices are eliminated, not only would the newspaper be hurt, more importantly, so would the community. Governmental transparency and accountability to taxpayers will be terribly diminished. Studies in other states have shown that the spending and tax rates of local government have increased in areas that have eliminated newspaper notice.
For these reasons, the following groups have supported public notices in newspapers in previous legislative sessions:
AARP, Americans for Prosperity Texas, ACLU of Texas, Associated General Contractors, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, League of Women Voters of Texas, Public Citizen, LULAC, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Student Press Law Center, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas NAACP, Texas Press Association, Texas Society of Architects.
The Texas Press Association promotes the welfare of Texas newspapers, encourages higher standards of journalism, and plays an important role in protecting the public’s right to know as an advocate of First Amendment liberties.