Our Opinion - State House Bill 106 will allow government to hide legal notices on websites they control

Some of the most important information printed in the Northwest Alabamian each week doesn’t appear on the front page.  It is within the classifieds.
Each week, the Alabamian prints legal notices submitted by governmental agencies and others on our classifieds page, as required by current state law.  We also upload these legal notices to our website, mynwapaper.com, and to a statewide website, alabamapublicnotices.com, which is also required by current law.  This provides maximum exposure of notices showing what your government is doing and, quite often, how government officials are spending your tax dollars.    However, if a bill that is before the Alabama legislature passes, this vital information source that is now so readily available will, ultimately, cease to be.  
House Bill 106, which is being sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Almond (R-Tuscaloosa), would allow all counties and municipalities and their political subdivisions the option to publish legal notices on websites they maintain or on a website maintained by the state and no longer be required to place these notices in their local newspaper.  Cities, counties and other government agencies would have the option to continue to place legal notices in newspapers but, as we have seen locally, when there is an option, government agencies often choose the path of not running the information in the newspaper.  Just look at what happened with delinquent tax notices last year.  They are no longer run in the Alabamian, but are placed on the revenue commissioner’s website.   
House Bill 106 passed out of committee this past week by a vote of 7-5 and will now go before the full House of Representatives, possibly this week.  If it passes, from there, it will have to be passed by the Alabama Senate and will eventually make its way to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for her signature.
The following is an editorial submitted by the Alabama Press Association explaining why HB106 is potentially so dangerous to Alabamians and your right to know what your elected government is doing:
“109 newspapers deliver printed copies of the newspaper to homes across Alabama every week, with a presence in all 67 counties.
“Every notice printed in a newspaper is already uploaded to an independent, statewide web site (AlabamaPublicNotices.com) and to the newspapers’ websites. The public has free access to both. We have a system in place that provides maximum access to public notice. Both online and in print.
“Newspapers are reliable. A notice appearing in a newspaper is permanent. It cannot be changed or altered.  A printed newspaper cannot be hacked, where critical information could be added to or deleted.  
“There are literally billions of websites. The public is far less likely to search for notices on a government website than go to their local paper, where they are accustomed to finding notices.
“Less access means less transparency and accountability. There is no argument that regardless of how you slice it, this is access-restrictive legislation. In many cases, those most affected will be seniors, rural Alabama and the less affluent.
“This bill eliminates access for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. People in rural Alabama – which is the vast majority of counties – have limited or no access to broadband. Even in areas where there is availability, internet fees make it financially beyond the reach of many. They still depend on the local paper for news and information on local, county and state governments.
“Finally, should government entities EVER be in charge of posting their own notices? NO! Requiring independent, third-party newspapers, newspaper websites and alabamapublicnotices.com ensures that public notices run in accordance with the law. The fox should never be guarding the hen house.
“Newspapers shine a light and offer transparency, trust and integrity to keep readers informed.”

Your state representatives are Tracy Estes (for the Haleyville city limits and Marion County) and Tim Wadsworth (for the rest of Winston County.) Your state senator is Garlan Gudger.  Their phone numbers and email addresses are listed on page 4 in this edition.  If you find the implications of House Bill 106 concerning, if you want your government agencies to be transparent in their dealings and if you want your government to be accountable to you, please take a few minutes to make a call or send an email this week and tell them to vote NO on House Bill 106. 



See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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