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Pa. papers oppose new legal-ads bill

The measure would allow legal notices to be posted online instead of printed in newspapers.

HARRISBURG - Advocates for Pennsylvania newspapers and local governments clashed Thursday over a bill that would allow school districts, municipalities, and counties to publish legal notices on the Web instead of in newsprint.

Editors and publishers who testified for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association told the House Local Government Committee that the legislation would undermine an important source of revenue for their ailing industry and make it more difficult for Pennsylvanians who don't use the Internet to find important public information.

"You can't be heard if you don't know about a public meeting," said Bernard Oravec, publisher of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

Proponents told the committee the proposal could save taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

"The new generation that's out there today knows where to go on the websites" to find the notices of public meetings, contract bidding, and other government activities, said Elam M. Herr of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.

Other groups backing the measure include the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities, and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

The bill would allow school boards and government agencies to publish legal notices online instead of in newspapers if the Internet sites are registered with the state, linked to the government agency's site, and accessible at least 98 percent of the time.

The committee chairman, Rep. Tom Creighton (R., Lancaster), is the bill's sponsor.

The newspaper association estimates the measure would wipe out as many as 1,000 newspaper jobs.

AARP Pennsylvania also opposes the bill. Its spokesman cited a 2009 study that showed 40 percent of people older than 50 do not use computers and that 70 percent of those people have no interest in learning how to.