Phase-out of required newspaper publication of county notices moves ahead in state legislature

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

State lawmakers took another step Wednesday toward phasing out the required publication of county public notices in Colorado newspapers.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee passed an amended version of Senate Bill 18-156 on a 6-2 vote. Some committee members voted in favor of the measure while acknowledging that some newspapers may be hit hard by the loss of revenue.

“The last thing I want to do is contribute to what we’ve seen as a struggle for the newspaper industry to keep doing what they do, which is providing vital information to folks across the state,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, the Lakewood Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in the House. “But I have to weigh that and balance it with how we are asking our counties to publish things that the population really is not looking in their newspaper for these days.”

The bill would change a century-old law that requires each county to publish a monthly expense report and a twice-a-year employee salary report in a local newspaper.

As amended by the committee, counties beginning in 2022 would instead be permitted to “conspicuously” publish the financial reports on their official websites if they also publish links to them in at least one newspaper.

As passed by the Senate earlier in the legislative session, the bill set a 2020 deadline for the move to publishing online. Kennedy said the date was changed to 2022 to give rural communities more time to take advantage of new efforts to increase broadband internet access, ensuring that more people can get to county websites.

The Colorado Press Association opposes SB 18-156, arguing that public notices are still a valuable tool for promoting government transparency, providing a permanent, neutral-party record of important public information.

“The public has come to expect to get this kind of information from newspapers in Colorado,” press association lobbyist Greg Romberg testified at a March committee hearing on the bill. He noted that newspaper websites, where the notices also are published, attract much more traffic than county websites.

Public notices published in Colorado newspapers also are available on the Public Notice Colorado website.

But some committee members said it no longer makes sense for taxpayers to bear the cost of publishing county financial information in newspapers, especially when municipalities and the state government are not required to publish similar reports.

“For this kind of information, it just seems like an unnecessary burden on counties and no other government entity,” said Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City.

The bill now goes to the House floor. If it passes there, the Senate will vote on the House-amended version.

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

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