Pennsylvania Newspapers Oppose Public Notice Proposal

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By: Mark Scolforo, The Associated Press

Pennsylvania’s paid-circulation newspapers argued yesterday against altering the rules for government-funded legal notices, while municipal organizations and “shoppers” that compete with the papers told a legislative committee the change would save tax dollars.

The state’s House Judiciary Committee hearing addressed one of several bills pending in the legislature that would loosen the requirement that such ads must be placed in paid-circulation newspapers.

Representatives of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association said the existing system works to spread information to the broadest possible public, but others said it was inevitable that ads would be put on the Internet or that the market would be opened to shoppers and what are known as community newspapers.

Pennsylvania School Boards Association lobbyist Tim Allwein noted that a 2006 Pennsylvania State University study found that moving legal advertising to the Web would save the state’s governmental bodies more than $20 million a year.

“We believe that community papers offer a cost-effective alternative to school districts that are already financially strapped and are looking for other methods to reach their constituents,” Allwein said.

The proposals are being considered during a time of deep financial distress for many newspapers, and Judiciary Chairman Tom Caltagirone (D., Berks) said he worried about the possible implications of cuts to what has been a steady source of their income.

“I would hate to see the newspapers in this state come to an end, because I don’t think it serves the public interest,” Caltagirone said.

The industry’s falling circulation was a reason to support change, said Jim Haigh of the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association.

Edward Troxell, government-affairs director for the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, said greater competition would be a good thing.

“We have to be realistic, and we have to understand that times are changing,” Troxell said.

Moving legal ads around to different publications might make them harder to find, said William Andring, a Democratic lawyer for the Judiciary Committee. He said that would let municipal officials bury notice when it served their needs.

Caltagirone said he believed that if a bill got to the floor it would pass easily.

In Philadelphia, the Home Rule Charter requires the city to post legal notices in the city’s three largest-circulation paid newspapers. Currently, those are The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Legal Intelligencer.

Voters will decide in Tuesday’s primary whether to change the charter to allow City Council to include options such as the city’s Web site and free newspapers.

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