Editorial: Demmer to introduce failed public notices legislation in House

Last year, it was Rockford’s own Joe Sosnowski; this year it’s Tom Demmer, the Republican state representative from Dixon.

Boilerplate legislation to take public notices out of newspapers and hand the responsibility of publishing them over to the state’s bloated bodies of government is set to come before the House as soon as this week. HB 6098 would have each local body of government publish those notices on either their own websites or a central statewide database.

If all this sounds familiar it should: it’s a near carbon copy of Sosnowski’s HB 261 from 2015 and legislation the GOP has worked tirelessly to bring in across the country.

It worked in getting passed in just one instance so far. Utah trotted out similar legislation in 2009 only to see it repealed in 2011 after government bodies failed to comply with posting the required information.

An audit of 750 units of government in Illinois produced shortly before Sosnowski’s bill came to the floor showed that only 57 percent of government bodies complied with posting agendas of upcoming meetings as required by law.

Furthermore, less than half complied with posting approved meeting minutes and only 49 percent of bodies surveyed maintained any website whatsoever.

In a statement, the Illinois Press Association said: “Newspapers agree that public notices should be on the internet. That’s why we supported legislation passed five years ago (P.A. 96-1144) that requires every newspaper to post all public notices on a centralized, statewide website at no additional cost to government.

“That website, PublicNoticeIllinois.com, is the sole online location for every public notice published in the State of Illinois. Allowing local governments to post public notices on their own websites means that this information would be scattered across more than 8,000 online locations; having this information located in one searchable online database is of extreme importance to taxpayers.”

IPA continued, “it is counterproductive to transfer responsibilities from the private sector to the public sector, and give local government more duties when they will undoubtedly be operating with fewer employees in the future. We believe that newspapers can do a better job.

“Many citizens, including the elderly, minorities and those in rural areas do not have access to the internet. In fact, AARP, representing citizens 50 and older, has opposed legislation removing public notices from newspapers in state legislatures across the country.”

At a time when the legislature can’t even get a budget put together and local governments across the state are struggling to make ends meet, Demmer is proposing a bill that would place a greater financial burden on Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government, all the while denying citizens the ability to dependably access these vital records.

“Advocates for taking public notices out of newspapers claim that it will save money – but local government has never substantiated this claim,” said the IPA. “Furthermore, the money spent on putting public notices in newspapers is insignificant compared to the local government’s budget.

“Years from now, any citizen could go to a newspaper and read what the government did. The reliability of newspaper publication is so well established that courts in Illinois accept the published contents as evidence in court, and require it for many court actions.”

We urge you to call your local legislator and tell them to stop this pointless and costly bill at a time when the state is limping along financially. Tom Demmer should be ashamed to even introduce it in the first place.

See also: Sunshine Week: The importance of FOIA in the digital age
Update: The bill has been pulled before a second reading
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