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Latest on HB 7049 for FPA Members Publishing Legal Notices

Latest on HB 7049 for FPA Members Publishing Legal Notices

As you know, the new public notice law HB 7040, 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.


LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

At least three counties (Broward, Polk, and Citrus) have met or have discussed the possibility of implementing the website-only option. Here is an update

The Citrus County Commission on August 30 decided to move forward to a public hearing on Oct. 18 to address the county website option.  To prepare for the public hearing, Chronicle staff reached

out to their county commissioners and the Clerk of Court (who would be handling the website for the county) focusing on the relative costs of using website-only versus newspaper notices. Some points they made:

  • The cheapest and most effective way to get this information to the public is via the newspaper.
  • The notices are published at a very low rates and keeping is not primarily about keeping the revenue for the paper but to allow citizens to easily access the information where they expect it to be and to promote government transparency and citizen awareness.
  • Cost of the first-class mailing requirement.  Who would pay for that?
  • Cost and management of the affidavit process—who would handle that for the county?
  • Website option raises confusion about what ads would run on the site, and which other government agencies (school board, turnpike authority, etc.) can use the county website and who at the county manage that interface.

The paper reached out to their readers and the public. They ran a “government in the darkness” ad campaign (FPA provided some resources) raising public attention to the issue and encouraging input to commissioners and appearance at the hearing.

Because of these efforts, commissioners received a flood of email comments, and many were prepared to testify at the hearing. The end result was the matter never came to a vote and the commission does not plan to take further action.

Please contact John Murphy jmurphy@chronicleonline.com at the Chronicle for any further information on what occurred at the meeting.

As for Polk County, the 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.


RECOMMENDED ACTION

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.


FPA RESOURCES

Here are some resources we will continue to expand on:

  • Talk Tracks/Points: To help you make your points, the latest FPA Q and A’scan help.
  • See also the resources previously indicated in our August 31 ebulletin:
    1. Breakdown by Alex Lutz of time/costs newspapers expend placing the notices
    2. FPA testimony used at the Citrus County hearing
    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.

We appreciate your help on this important project. Together we can work to get our grassroots message out to county officials.