- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A bill that would allow municipalities to post certain public notices online rather than in newspapers advanced from a state House committee Tuesday.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said the bill, HB275, is part of an effort toward making government agencies more efficient while not compromising the public’s need to know.

The bill would give municipalities the option of posting mill rate, foreclosure and redemption of foreclosure notices on municipal websites that are accessible to the public instead of being published in newspapers.

It would require state agencies with the technological capabilities to post reports on the state’s online public notice system. Hawker told the House State Affairs Committee that printed copies would still be provided to the state library for permanent archiving and produced if required by agreement or federal law or approved by an agency head. People also could still request copies.

The bill would limit when state agencies could hire contractors for photos or graphics for reports.

The Office of Management and Budget, in a fiscal note, said the annual cost of printing state agency reports is estimated at $530,000. The office said the bill will most likely result in cost savings but could not quantify those, noting many agencies currently distribute reports electronically and it’s not clear how many reports might be printed in cases where they are required or requested.

Representatives of the Alaska Municipal League and Municipality of Anchorage’s Real Estate Department spoke in favor of the bill. There was no testimony given in opposition Tuesday.

Deborah Reich, in Anchorage’s Real Estate Department, said the city could save at least $20,000 a year by publishing the municipal foreclosure list online.

Kathie Wasserman, the municipal league’s executive director who testified in person Tuesday, said in a letter to Hawker last week that while local governments are proud of their openness, “we still have difficulties in meeting all of the obligations required to post in ways that were once put in place for a very good reason, but now might be a bit antiquated, especially for larger municipalities.”

She said her group is constantly looking for ways to make local government more efficient and effective.

“This might appear to be a small issue, but it can make a large difference to local government budgets,” she wrote.

Tena Williams, publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News, said in an interview that she planned to reach out to other newspapers and to her local representative. Williams said she opposes the bill.

While newspapers do receive revenue from publishing notices, she said that’s a secondary concern.

“I think it’s all about the public and the public having information about what their government’s doing. And the general public doesn’t, on a regular basis, go online and look for public notices,” she said. “They read them in a newspaper that they subscribe to, that they paid for, where they expect to find this information.”

Bill Kunerth, publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, said the bill had just come to his attention and that he needed additional time to review it. However, he said there is no comparison between the reach of the newspaper, both in the print and online editions, and that of a municipal website.

The bill now could be scheduled for a House floor vote.

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Online:

HB275: http://bit.ly/1dGaMPs

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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