Bill Is An Assault On Transparency And People’S Right To Know

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by Ginger Lamb, publisher, Arizona Capitol Times

Here we go again.

For the eighth year in a row, the Legislature has once again introduced a bill to eliminate public notices in newspapers.

This time it is sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh and targets corporate publications. He says this is about bringing newspapers into the 21st century and giving the public access.

Let’s set the record straight — this bill is an assault on transparency and your right to be notified of important information, all while promoting the growth of government bureaucracy at the expense of local Arizona jobs and businesses.

• Newspapers are in the 21st century — we have Web sites, searchable databases, apps and responsive Web sites.

• There is a difference between public access and public notice. Public access is not public notice.

What is most perplexing about this proposed legislation is that this is the same John Kavanagh who, when he was running for re-election in 2010, said he was “a limited government, fiscal conservative.” Yes, he has been a staunch supporter of differentiating between the government and private sector and ensuring that the government doesn’t step on the business community.

So why does HB 2554 (business entities; publication; posting requirements) do exactly that?

It would remove an important private function from newspapers and let the government have complete control. Kavanagh is proposing taxpayer dollars be spent to create a database that would expand government at the expense of private businesses that are already performing this service. It would cost our local community jobs — and not just jobs at newspapers. The bill would have an economic domino effect, eliminating jobs in other industries, like couriers and printers. And, there are ramifications beyond that to the state.

If something isn’t working, there is a need to run a bill to fix it. But this is a system that works.

At the Arizona Capitol Times, we publish corporate documents. And, since 1999 when a bill was dropped to eliminate corporate publication requirements we shifted our model to include online posting. All corporate notices that we publish are uploaded to publicnotices.azcapitoltimes.com (our searchable database with Google mapping and other tools for analysis) and to PublicNoticeAds.com — a statewide Web site created 15 years ago when the first bill was dropped to eliminate these requirements. At that time, Arizona Newspapers Association was the first association in the country to create such a database, which is now home to public notices for 11 other states as well.

The business community is not asking for this change. In fact, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Arizona Small Business Association are all opposed to this bill.

Public notice is public policy. It dates back to the founding of our republic and the first session of Congress in 1789. At that time, there was a mandate to publish all congressional bills and votes in newspapers because they are recognized as a reliable and trusted source of public information.

In our state, the publication requirements predate statehood. When the Capitol was in Prescott, we had the Arizona Territorial Revised Statutes of 1901. This document required every new corporation to publish its articles of incorporation in a newspaper. The intent of the Legislature was quite clear — that Arizonans needed to be informed of government and corporate activity and newspapers were the best place to distribute this information.

HB 2554 would appropriate $65,000 to the Arizona Corporation Commission to create a database. A couple of years ago $250K was appropriated to modernize the current ACC Web site Starpas. Twice, the commission delayed launching the new Web site and over this past summer scrapped the plans and put out a formal Request for Information in order to fix the system. If the commission couldn’t get this done with $250K, how can this now be done with only $65K?

Under the bill, the commission would be required to post the notices for only 90 days.

And then what? How does that constitute public notice?

Public access is not public notice. Public access is the right of Arizonans to have unfettered access to important information. Public notices are mandated by our Legislature to ensure there is transparency surrounding the activities of governments, officers of the court and others holding a public trust (Public Notice Resource Center). HB 2554 eliminates notice and would require Arizona residents to proactively, without announcement, search for the information which would not even be available after 90 days.

Newspapers already provide this service with no cost to the taxpayers and have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and maintain it — offering a free completely searchable, archived statewide database for all Arizonans.

So is this bill really necessary? Absolutely not!

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