TALLAHASSEE — For the second time in 11 months, the Florida House voted on Thursday to send a bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis that would strip Florida’s newspapers of legal notice revenue.
Some lawmakers said the move is a jab at publications that sometimes publish stories and editorials critical of the Republican leadership in Florida.
“The free press here in the free state of Florida isn’t reporting what the governor’s communications director wants it to report,” Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said during a committee hearing on the bill this week.
Supporters of the measure say it shouldn’t be the state’s job to make local governments subsidize newspapers. They say the measure will make notices more widely accessible to Floridians — who may or may not subscribe to a newspaper.
In Florida, local governments are required by law to publish certain notices in print newspapers or on newspaper websites. Those notices include updates on government meetings and budgets, code enforcement notifications and hazardous waste disposal notices.
House Bill 7049, which now heads to DeSantis, would eliminate the requirement for local governments to publish those notices in a third-party publication. Instead, governments would be allowed to publish them on a county website.
The measure cleared the Senate 26 to 13, and the House 79 to 40, mostly along party lines.
Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary, spoke in favor of the bill, saying governments should direct tax dollars “towards the most vulnerable,” and not to companies that make a product that “nobody wants.”
But detractors of the measure, including newspaper publishers, say legal notices contain important public information. Notices should be published by an independent third party because governments have no incentive to publish legal notices in a way that is easily accessible for Floridians, they argue.
Critics also note that under the new bill, the state’s legal notices could be strewn across 67 different county websites instead of the centralized clearinghouse run by the Florida Press Association — Floridapublicnotices.com. (That association represents dozens of newspapers, including the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald.)
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