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Public notice bills coming up with alarming regularity

A colorized version of a public notice ad in the Nevada Appeal.

Already this session I’ve testified in opposition to three bills in front of Nevada legislators that propose to reduce public notices. On a fourth, we’re taking a neutral stance.

First up was SB10 from the Treasurer’s Office, which was heard a couple of weeks ago. It would change how unclaimed property is listed.

Last week, committees heard SB39, which would remove a requirement for the state Purchasing Department to publish notices on bids for state contracts in excess of $50,000, and SB75, in which the Department of Wildlife wants to eliminate the notices it must publish when it sets annual hunting seasons and other regulations.

My testimony was similar on both — these notices inform the taxpaying public of the actions of these departments. They’re not just public records; they contain information that needs to be disseminated to the general public.

For the Purchasing Department, it amounts to about $11,388 annually to publish the notices in Reno and Las Vegas. That’s a pittance, but the department is trying to get a new million-dollar web site to process its contracts and vendors, so it is pitching this bill as a cost-savings by eliminating the public notice.

The argument by Purchasing Director Jeff Haag is that it’s a waste of money to notify the public of these contracts. The department does its business through registered vendors, so the only communication that needs to happen is between Purchasing and the vendors.

Obviously, we disagree. But I’m not sure legislators see why the public needs to know where their tax dollars are being spent. Part of Haag’s pitch is that the new site will be transparent and easily searchable. But Nevada already has such a web site — open.nv.gov — that tells you where your money went after it is spent, if you’re interested in searching. I think people need to know what solicitations are out there beforehand.

By the way, if you’re interested, the Purchasing Department’s site is currently listing an upcoming contract for “advertising, marketing, public relations and media buying.”

As for the Department of Wildlife, there doesn’t appear to be any other reason for cutting its notices than to save money. It spent a total of $7,800 last year in Reno, Las Vegas and Elko. If my math is correct, that works out to about a quarter of a cent for each notice to be delivered to a Nevada household.

Sometimes I sound like a broken record when I testify in front of committees, because I stress the fundamentals of public notice: Verifiable, independent, secure and archived. “I’m in favor of more public notice — not less,” I say. “It’s not a matter of choosing between newspapers and internet. It should be both.”

It’s a well-established system that works.

The fourth bill, SB110, on which we’re neutral, involves removing a requirement to publish a notice when a person changes his or her name to coincide with a gender change. This would affect very few notices, but it’s an important issue to some in the LGBT community who fear discrimination.

The law already allows a person who is applying for a name change to ask the judge to waive publication requirements, if the person is concerned for his or her safety. I don’t think many people are aware of this provision, so it may be more a matter of education. Still, we’re not opposed to the bill if it will protect someone.

 

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