A bill in front of the Nevada Legislature would have a profound effect on public notices in the state, and I want to make clear what it would and wouldn’t do.
Public notices are a crucial component of a three-pronged foundation that keeps government open and transparent, along with public records and open meetings. They appear in Nevada newspapers to inform residents of important events — zoning changes, government bids, water rights, foreclosures, termination of parental rights and a host of other matters.
Senate Bill 218, proposed by the Nevada Broadcasters Association, would allow those notices to be placed on broadcasters’ websites instead of being printed in the newspapers.
What’s wrong with putting them on the internet? Nothing. That’s why Nevada newspapers have been doing it for the past seven years.
In fact, newspapers have been providing online access in several ways. There’s a statewide site, which can be found at publicnoticeads.com, where notices from around Nevada can be searched by county, by newspaper and by keyword. You can also search notices in 47 other states, if you want.
There’s nevadapublicnotice.com, which is a landing site for information about notices. It links to the searchable site.
And, of course, the newspapers themselves put notices on their web sites. On RGJ.com, you just click on the link marked “Legal Notices.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal hosts a site called RJLegalNotices.vegas, as well as making them available on its newspaper site. Most of the other papers in the state do so, as well.
I should note at this point that the newspapers do all this at no additional cost. Yes, it costs to place a notice in print, and I think there’s a significant value. But the newspapers recognized in 2010 that they needed to be online as well, so they started posting them there voluntarily in addition to the print notice.
It didn’t require legislation. It was done as a public service and part of our responsibility under the First Amendment to hold government transparent and accountable.
So what would Senate Bill 218 do? It would give governments the option to not put public notices in newspapers. Some might be in the newspaper; some might be on the internet.
In my opinion, this merely reduces the amount of notice the public would get about these important events. It shouldn’t be about print vs. internet. It should be both.
The idea of internet-only notices is being pitched as a cost-saving measure. I expect that may well be true, although there’s nothing in the bill to guarantee it.
But I see public notices as a benefit — as I do public records and open meetings. In the long run, an accountable and transparent government is the best way to save taxpayer money.
Now, maybe you’re saying to yourself that you don’t pay much attention to public notices — those ads typically found in the back of the paper.
I admit I don’t always read them, but sometimes I do. That’s how I found out this week the Reno Housing Authority is seeking bids to remove 36 water heaters and install new ones. I found out a house on my street (I live in Carson City) was in foreclosure. And, in the Virginia City newspaper, I read where the polling places will be for a special recall election in Storey County.
I also believe there is great value in having a permanent copy of those notices that can’t be hacked or altered. I know I can find a record of notices for more than 100 years in the State Library & Archives.
I can also find them online, because newspapers have been uploading them for the better part of this decade.
Barry Smith is executive director of the Nevada Press Association.