he North Carolina General Assembly is back in session, and we hope for significant headway on issues like vaccinations, economic recovery and help for public schools dealing with an unprecedented pandemic.
But first, as the Hippocratic Oath goes, we hope the legislature does no harm. Which brings us to HB 35, one of the first measures to be rolled out in the newest rendition of the legislature.
The measure’s main sponsors are Reps. Harry Warren, Jay Adams, David Rogers and Bobby Hanig, all Republicans. It would allow a number of counties – including Jackson – to publish public notices on a county-maintained website instead of in local newspapers.
Full disclosure, the Herald does have a modest financial stake in this issue. But that stake pales at what’s at stake for citizens: Your right to know what lawmakers are up to.
On the face of it, one might say what’s the harm? The move to digital is a trend that isn’t going to be reversed. What’s the point of paying for ink?
For starters, ink attracts a lot of eyeballs. The Herald reaches thousands of homes each week in print form, and thousands more via our website and social media feeds. It provides a public service by printing government notices; print and ink and electrons cost money, and thus we are paid for that service.
We make public notices … well, noticed. You can count on us to provide notice of the new solar farm, hog farm or Dollar General moving in next door. If you don’t see it, odds are one of your neighbors will and will pass on the news.
A survey commissioned by the North Carolina Press Institute late last year showed that 7 of 10 adults read public notices in their local newspaper, that newspapers reach 6.6 million North Carolina adults, and that 68 percent of those surveyed said local governments should be required to publish notices in a newspaper.
The alternative being offered is a section that has yet to be created on a county website. You’ll have to figure out where it is and how to navigate to it, and constantly update the news in the event it involves something that affects your life or wallet.
That’s not much of an offer.
HB35 it what is referred to as a “local bill,’’ legislation affecting fewer than 15 counties. As it’s not a statewide measure, it’s safe from a gubernatorial veto.
Fortunately, the representative for three of the counties named in the bill – Jackson, Haywood and Swain – is Mike Clampitt, R-Swain. He’s working on a proposed committee substitute to pull those three counties out of the measure.
Clampitt cited a simple reason for his move that covers some ground we haven’t mentioned: It’s going to be hard for folks here to access a government website to go poking around for public notices if they don’t have internet access in the first place.
Broadband has conquered many challenges, but one it hasn’t is geography. And our area has geography that has made broadband a very tough nut to crack in many places.
We salute Clampitt for being on top of this issue and working to make sure his constituents stay informed.