Latest on HB 7049 County Website-only Option (Feb. 1)
The new public notice law HB 7040 is now effective. It 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.
Brevard County is still publishing notices in the local paper but has already decided to move what government notices they can onto a county website. The decision is apparently being driven by politics not economics. The county has issued an RFP and their IT department is soliciting several quotes for software solutions that will enable them to do this. See https://brevardfl.gov/LegalAdsPublicNotices.
Broward County has looked at the new option and back in August reached out to the Sun-Sentinel and others about the possibility of a newspaper being the designated website. They are now moving in a different direction and looking at other vendors.
Citrus County initially wanted to move forward to an Oct. 18 public hearing on the new website option but after a substantial outreach effort by Chronical staff to the commission and public, the matter never came to a vote and died on the agenda. See on FPA’s website the recording of the VIP roundtable discussion and the Chronicle’s power point outlining its efforts regarding county officials and outreach to the public.
Duval County is discussing the option but we have not heard of any movement
Manatee County is moving forward with this new option but is also still publishing notices in the local paper. The webpage contains a form allowing citizens to obtain notices via mail: https://manatee.hosted.civiclive.com/government/board_of_county_commissioners/bcc_meetings_and_agendas/public_hearing_notices. Some county officials want to run delinquent tax notices on the website only– the county is no longer putting these out for bid.
Monroe County is looking into the option and the County Attorney will investigate for further action.
Pascoe Counties. We have heard these counties may have at least discussed the option but we have not heard of any movement
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. County staff indicates they will await more input until March. Apparently, delinquent tax notices will still run in the newspaper.
Sarasota County held a hearing on January 18 and passed Ord. No. 2022-105 amending Chapter 2 of the County Code, creating Article X, relating to digital publication of legal advertisements and public notices.
The ordinance passed unanimously despite objection and testimony by newspaper representatives.
The commission did not appear to appreciate the value of the reach of the newspaper’s digital presence versus the county website or the value of the aggregate floridpublicnotices.com website.
There also seemed to be little grassroots opposition. One commissioner asked “where are your readers?” Another claimed no one had contacted her until the day before the hearing.
Commissioners felt their county website was accessible to the public and did not appear to see any problem with government publishing notices of its own activities on its website as opposed to the third-party newspaper.
On the other hand, the area where they seemed to be uncomfortable was the cost and resources necessary to support website notice including technology, personnel/contractors, and processing the notices entailing affidavits and mailing.
Interestingly, commissioners indicated during the meeting that DT notices (expenses which are recouped by county and also result in a county charge) will continue to run in the paper.
Seminole County—apparently will continue to run DT notices in paper.
St. Lucie County commission, at a July meeting, announced they were moving forward with a plan to test a legals website in October. However, they never mentioned it again, and we are still trying to verify if they even moved forward far enough to test it.
Volusia County looking into the web option but apparently no action yet.
CONTINUED RECOMMENDED ACTION
Each member newspaper publishing public notices/legal ads should remain vigilant about new developments or meetings by your local governments (especially county or counties) regarding the website-only option.
If your county decides to move forward, consider implementing an ad campaign to let local citizens know about this and the downsides to transparency and notice. Informing your readers and motivating them to contact their commissioners via emails and showing up at any hearing that is scheduled will be crucial to slowing this down.
Our PN marketing group will continue to meet biweekly regarding new development. FPA will also run a op ed.
Please let FPA staff (Jim and/or Sam) know what is happening in your county.
- With the help of Sandpaper Marketing, we are developing an ad campaign (similar to the one for Citrus County) for counties who have decided to move forward with the digital option to help inform citizens and highlight downsides.
- Talk Tracks/Points: To help you make your case, the latest FPA Q and A’s can help.
- See the resources previously indicated in previous ebulletins and on the FPA website. Also see FPA and newspaper op-eds.