Wisconsin Newspapers Oppose Bill Changing Public-Notice Requirements

By: (AP) The Wisconsin newspaper industry has expressed opposition to legislation that would allow local governments to publish summaries of ordinances they pass instead of the full text as is now required.

Two companion bills pending in the Legislature, AB 257 in the Assembly and SB 126 in the Senate, would allow governments to publish summaries that would tell readers where they could find copies of the full text, whether on the Internet or at a municipal hall.

The bills would still require all meeting notices to be published.

Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, said minorities, the elderly, and people in rural areas do not have as much access to the Internet as others. That would make it more difficult for them to get information about their local governments online instead of through newspapers, he said.

"It is up to the public to track down the details" under the bills, Fox said. "It is another barrier between government and public involvement."

Fox said he saw the bills as an opening volley against easy public access to government.

Chris Hardie, publisher of eight weekly newspapers for the River Valley Newspaper Group in western Wisconsin, said legal notices will account for about 4% of the papers' advertising revenue this month. Publishing only summaries of ordinances would not serve the public, he said.

"It's a big step toward shutting the door on open government," he said. "The burden should be on the government to keep its society fully informed, not the other way around."

But Sen. Carol Roessler, R-Oshkosh, a sponsor of the bill, said Thursday during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security, Military Affairs, Small Business and Government Reform that the measure was about reducing public costs for local government.

Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, the chairman of the committee, said people may be more inclined to read summaries than ordinances full of legal jargon.

Mark Wadium, a lobbyist for Outagamie County, said that more people have Internet access than newspaper subscriptions. Outagamie County spent $13,000 on printing ordinances last year -- and much of that would have been saved if the county could have printed summaries, he said.

"This is not about hiding anything," he said. "This is about saving property tax payers' money."

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Waukesha County, and Kenosha County also registered support for the measure.

But Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, said his constituents keep a close eye on local governments by reading ordinances in the newspaper.


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