HB 7049 GROUND PLAN CONTINUES for FPA Members Publishing Legal Notices
As you know, the new law, effective Jan. 1, 2023, allows counties or their designated entity to create and operate in place of newspaper notice a “publicly accessible website” to provide public notices and legal ads. If a county opts to set up such a site, other local government entities like municipalities and school boards can then use that site to post their own notices. As you can see, under the bill, the counties will be the central focus of any new website.
We have heard that at least three counties (Broward, Polk, and Citrus) have met or are planning to meet soon to discuss the possibility of implementing the website-only option.
The Citrus County Commission held a meeting on August 30 to determine whether to proceed to a public hearing on whether to go this route. During the hearing, the Clerk of Court (who would be handling the website for the county) gave a presentation, with a focus on the relative costs of using website-only versus newspaper notices. There seemed to be some confusion about the actual costs to the county, the newspaper audience, what notices would be published website-only, and the first-class mailing requirement. The local newspaper provided input along with citizens and FPA reps. After some discussion, the commission voted to move forward to a public hearing on Oct. 18. Please contact John Murphy at the Chronicle for any further information on what occurred at the meeting and plans moving forward.
Polk County Commissioners held a workshop in August to discuss the issue and staff is currently looking into the option so the county can meet further over the next couple of months.
Broward County is looking at the new option and has reached out to the Sun-Sentinel about the possibility of the paper being the designated website.
In light of the above activity, to assist coordinating a state-wide approach, we ask that each member remain vigilant about any new developments or meetings by your local governments (especially your county or counties) regarding the website-only option. In particular, keep your lines of communications open with your county contacts and inform them proactively about the downsides of website-only notice. If a meeting is scheduled on the issue, the local newspaper will be responsible for reaching out to individual commissioners and staff to educate them and discourage any vote in favor of such option. Please let FPA know what is happening in your county.
Here are some resources we will continue to expand on:
• A spreadsheet that connects most of Florida’s 67 counties with the newspaper publisher/editor/ad director in that readership area and noting any new development. We are asking that each newspaper representative listed on the spreadsheet (or a person assigned by you) to engage with county staff, as indicated above.
• Talk Tracks/Points: To help you make your points, the latest FPA Q and A’s can help. They describe the costs that website-only would entail including new staff (FTE’s), mailing expense, and technology. Further, the county will face additional potential liability for running the notices as well as community push-back where notices are missed or inaccurate. Many counties will include substantial community sectors that will not look for these notices online or to navigate the county websites to find them. These points are made in more detail on pp. 5 and 7-8 of the Q and As.
• See also a 1) breakdown by Alex Lutz of time/costs newspapers expend placing the notices; 2) FPA testimony used at the Citrus County hearing; and 3) talk track that we used during the legislative hearings on the issue with information relating to internet usage by Florida citizens and the 2020 Mason Dixon poll regarding public notices in newspapers.
FPA is looking at partnering/hiring with a university or consultant to provide an estimate of costs related to first-class mailing, which is required by the bill.
We appreciate your help on this important project. Together we can work to get our grassroots message out to county officials.