Florida GOP Lawmakers Vote to Strip Newspapers of Legal Advertising Revenue

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Florida lawmakers are acting like alligators who smell blood – they are out for the kill.

Their sights set on the struggling newsprint industry, the Florida House passed a bill that would strip the state’s newspapers of desperately needed legal advertising revenue.

House Bill 35 repeals part of the law that requires placement in newspapers, announcements about tax increases, special elections, and other public notices.

Estimates suggest that such notices provide the state’s 100-plus newspapers with millions of dollars in annual revenue.

The Republican-sponsored measure passed this week by an 85-34 vote.

“When the telegram industry died because communication methodologies changed, government didn’t step in and require people to continue to send telegrams,” a cynical GOP Rep. Randy Fine, the bill’s primary sponsor, argued.

Fine called payments to newspapers an unnecessary subsidy and said the government should not save the “dying industry.”

The 60-page bill notes, in part, that if a governmental agency publishes a legal notice in a newspaper, each legal notice must be posted on the newspaper’s website on the same day that the printed notice appears in the newspaper, at no additional charge, also in a separate web page titled “Legal Notices,” “Legal Advertising,” or comparable identifying language.

The measure continues:

“A link to the legal notices web page shall be provided on the front page of the newspaper’s website that provides access to the legal notices. If there is a specified size and placement required for a printed legal notice, the size and placement of the notice on the newspaper’s website must optimize its online visibility in keeping with the print requirements.

“The newspaper’s web pages that contain legal notices must present the legal notices as the dominant and leading subject matter of those pages. The newspaper’s website must contain a search function to facilitate searching the legal notices. A fee may not be charged, and registration may not be required for viewing or searching legal notices on a newspaper’s website if the legal notice is published in a newspaper.”

The Senate version of the legislation, SB 402, is scheduled to be heard in its first Senate committee next week.

“There may be an asteroid out there somewhere, and it may be hurtling towards us right now. But until it hits, there’s still some dinosaurs like me left walking around,” Democratic Rep. Joe Geller countered during a Floor argument. “We’re not as comfortable with what you’re proposing as you are.”

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