Sustain Gov. Cooper’s veto, keep legal notices in newspapersEditorial / August 4, 2017
The following editorial also appears in the High Point Enterprise, Jamestown News and News and Record
We want to thank Gov. Roy Cooper for protecting the First Amendment rights of Guilford County newspapers — and by extension, the county’s citizens — by vetoing House Bill 205.
HB 205 originally was written to change provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act as it relates to employing prisoners. But near the end of the General Assembly session, a rider was attached to the bill that would have created a pilot program in Guilford County that would allow local governments to remove public notices and legal advertisers from newspapers and their websites and place them on government websites.
Why Gov. Cooper acted
As Gov. Cooper said in announcing his veto, “time and again, this legislature has used the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time. Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media. Legislation that enacts retribution on the media threatens a free and open press, which is fundamental to our democracy.”
HB 205 is just the latest example of North Carolina legislators using their clout in the General Assembly to settle personal scores.
The pilot program targeting public notices and legal advertising was originally part of Senate Bill 343, sponsored by Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford). Sen. Wade says the change would improve transparency and the public’s access to important information.
But she ignores the reality that a digital divide still exists. Many in our communities still lack have internet access — some because they are uncomfortable with the technology, others because they can’t afford it. Far too often, rezonings, redistricting, road closures and landfill debates disproportionately affect poor communities and communities of color. These populations know they can count on a hard copy of a newspaper for vital information.
The bill’s target
Three Democratic legislators from Guilford County said the true aim of the legislation was to damage the News & Record.
The bill would have a negative financial impact on the News & Record and The High Point Enterprise, but the damage would be far greater for smaller newspapers such as the Jamestown News and The Carolina Peacemaker. The Jamestown News would likely go out of business if the bill becomes law.
More significantly, we know that far more people read our papers and Web sites than read local government Wsites. We are troubled by the loss of transparency that would no doubt result from government controlling how this information is shared.
This is why the four newspapers have joined together to protect the public’s right to information about actions being considered by local governments
Do the right thing
As s a group, we ask Guilford Republicans Jon Hardister, John Faircloth and John Blust to reconsider their support for a bill that would hurt their constituents.
We ask the 14 Republican members of the House who voted against this bill in June to stand firm and vote to sustain the governor’s veto on Aug. 3.
We also ask that the five Democrats who voted for the bill as part of a separate deal support the governor’s veto.
Public notices are a government responsibility, not a government function.
We see no benefit to our communities that would come from this bill becoming law.