IF YOU'RE a fan of bigger, more expensive, less transparent government, you will be thrilled with a bill being debated in the state House tomorrow. Rep. Tom Creighton, R-Lancaster, is proposing HB633, which would eliminate the requirement that public notices be printed in newspapers. Instead, a new bureaucracy would create a government site to serve as a repository of public notices.
Obviously, we have a vested interest in this; newspapers charge for those public notices, though at nominal rates. But we care less about how this bill chips away at our own bottom line than we do about how it chips away at democracy, and citizens' right to know when government is going to raise their taxes or tolls, sell public land or private property, or the many situations that now require public notices.
For one thing, the digital divide is far from closed: in this eight-county area alone, more than 1 million adults have no Internet access. According to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, 58 percent of seniors are not on the Web. Many ethnic groups are underrepresented as well.
The unconnected will now be the uninformed. Democracy belongs to all of us, not just those who can afford a laptop and wireless router.
Statewide, citizens would now have to access up to 4,000 websites to find public notices. This includes county, school district, school board, and municipalities from around the state. Even if a central government site links to individual entities, that would add unnecessary complications to finding information. Worse, government would control the publication and monitoring of these notices. And who will pay for that? Taxpayers will.
Meanwhile, most notices that appear in papers also appear at the Newspaper Association's http://pa.mypublicnotices.com.