State Journal-Register Like clockwork, an Illinois lawmaker proposes a bill each legislative session to remove public notices from newspapers and instead post them only on government websites. This session is no different. Rep. Jonathon Carroll (D-Northbrook) has introduced House Bill 811 with two co-sponsors — Rep. Daniel Didech (D-Buffalo Grove) and Rep. Sam Yingling (D- Round Lake Beach). So far, the proposal has not been assigned to a committee. But just as bills
Like clockwork, an Illinois lawmaker proposes a bill each legislative session to remove public notices from newspapers and instead post them only on government websites.
This session is no different. Rep. Jonathon Carroll (D-Northbrook) has introduced House Bill 811 with two co-sponsors — Rep. Daniel Didech (D-Buffalo Grove) and Rep. Sam Yingling (D- Round Lake Beach). So far, the proposal has not been assigned to a committee.
But just as bills that have come and gone before it — Rep. Joseph Sosnowski introduced a similar proposal that was defeated in 2017 — HB 811 is a bad idea. And again, lawmakers should reject it.
Newspapers have played a vital role in providing transparency about government by publishing public notices. It has worked for more than 150 years. As the neutral third party, newspapers help protect government from denying the public information they have the right to know about such as meetings, hearings, court actions, contract bidding, unclaimed funds and more. Along with open meetings, freedom of information laws, public notices are an essential element to keeping government transparent.
With the digital reach of newspapers and the statewide public notice site run by Illinois newspapers, notifying the public is now more efficient and effective than ever. Newspapers and newspaper sites are the primary medium for public notices in all 50 states because they are accessible, independent, verifiable and archival.
Government, well, is less so. There are nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois. Only about half have a website. How efficient and effective would that be? How can the public trust they will be notified of important government action?
Units of government are required by statute to post meeting dates, agendas and minutes. Yet, many don’t. There are more than 1,400 townships in Illinois, and the majority don’t have a website — but for the ones that do, only 53% comply with the required postings. Why would different results be expected from the same government units if they control the posting of public notices?
Then there is the access issue in Illinois. The best broadband coverage in the state is concentrated in northeastern counties, with comparatively less coverage in the southeast, according to Pew Center research. Pew also found broadband access is lower among older adults, minorities, low-income households and rural communities. Governments in many of those communities know when they want to publicize issues of concern, they get the message out through their local newspaper.
The sponsors are framing the bill as a cost-saving measure. We all know there is money to be saved by being more efficient. But how about taking a realistic look at eliminating the seemingly redundant units of government? Illinois has far more units of government than any other state. Florida has more than 7 million more residents than Illinois but fewer than a quarter the number of government units. Want to cut costs? Make drainage districts, road districts and mosquito abatement districts functions of county governments; that’s where real money can be saved. Public notices in newspapers represent hundredths of a percent of a local government’s annual budget.
The majority of the more than 400 newspapers in Illinois are small businesses. Removing public notices will make it even harder to do what they do best — hold government accountable to the public and inform communities.