Online technology is driving a proposal in this year's legislature which could authorize state broadcasters to publish legal ads and notices on their websites -- but not everyone is sure it’s a good idea.
State law currently only permits the legal material to be published in newspapers.
Sen. David Ulibarri, D-Grants, is carrying SB147 for the New Mexico Broadcasters Association’s new NM Legal Notices service.
NMBA President Paula Maes says her organization was asked by various municipalities to provide an alternative posting site for legal notices, because of declining newspaper circulations, and the fact that some rural newspapers only publish once a week.
The state’s open meeting act requires agendas be posted at least 24 hours before an official meeting, so supporter's of the measure suggest that government entities need an alternative posting site.
“With our site, people in towns like Taos, will be able to find their school board meeting agendas online,” Maes said.
“The Journal’s circulation is down 21 percent, and, people have to buy subscriptions to read the legal ads. This leaves many people in the dark,” Maes said. “Checking notices on a broadcaster’s site will be free.”
According to Maes, broadcasters in Illinois have already started publishing the legal ads on their website, and states like Rhode Island and Maine are watching what happens in Santa Fe this month before they roll out similar programs.
Maes said NM Legal Notices would charge about the same rate as newspapers and any money raised will be used to fund high school scholarships and intern programs.
While newspaper sales executives may be resisting the measure because it will dampen their ad revenues, a special interest group is opposing the alternative site claiming it will “keep the public in the dark.”
Conservation Voters of New Mexico insists legal ads and notices be published in community newspapers.
In a news release the group wrote:
This change would mean that New Mexicans would no longer be able to learn about government notices or issues that may affect their community by reading the local paper. Any notice of hearings for permitting dairy farms, power plants, regulatory hearings, or many other issues would no longer be published in the affected communities. Residents would need to seek out this information on the internet.The NMBA counters that assertion and claims radio stations in small towns will be able to publish the ads more quickly on their website and residents won’t have to wait for a weekly or bi-weekly newspaper to be published.
Citadel New Mexico General Manager Milt McConnell says the majority of people in his audience get their information online. And, he wants public information to be publicly available on the internet.
“We believe it is past time to be able to have municipalities, school districts, county commissions etc to post their public notices on NMLegalNotices.com and have the electronic media be able to drive the message home,” McConnell, who oversees 770KKOB News Radio, said.
Both McConnell and Maes believe placing ads exclusively in print is not the answer going forward and say now is the time to insure an alternative delivery system.
For years broadcasters have aired free public service announcements, or PSA's, and worked closely with state and federal government agencies to disseminate valuable information to the public.
Opponents don't like the bill because they say 32 percent of residents have no access to the internet.
Members of the Senate Corporations Committee will consider the measure today at 2p in Santa Fe.
Disclosure: This reporter has worked for various broadcast outlets since 1980, including: Citadel Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc, Hubbard Broadcasting and American General media.