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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Government notices could move to the net

A bill that has earned the scorn of many an editorial page in New Jersey is on its way to becoming law.

The bill - sponsored by assemblymen Joseph Cryan, Louis Greenwald, and Paul Moriarty - would allow municipalities and government entities to satisfy public noticing requirements for certain announcements by placing the notices online.

On March 17 it was passed in the Assembly, and the bill now sits in committee in the Senate for likely passage sometime in the coming months.

"We have a responsibility to the public to ensure simple, easy access to government records and notices," said Mr. Cryan, D-Union. "With Internet access and usage continually on the rise, it makes good sense to allow the public to access meeting notices and other government documents electronically."

With its passage, the bills would mean that state, county, and municipal governments could comply with the existing rules on publication by simply posting a notice on their own official Web site, as opposed to purchasing costly newspaper ad space.

But the bill would not preclude any entity from purchasing advertising space in newspapers, although the cost factor would likely mean a drastically reduced revenue stream from government ads for newspapers.

"In our current fiscal climate, we should be taking any and all steps necessary to reduce the operating cost of government," said Mr. Greenwald, D-Camden. "Utilizing the power and reach of the Internet can improve people's access to government information and save taxpayer money at the same time."

Currently these entities are required to take out newspaper ad space.

Newspaper staffers are obviously against a bill that could mean only more drain on the already vastly shrunken advertising revenue coming in to the state's struggling newspapers. The editorial boards of several papers attacked the measure earlier in the year.

After passing by a large margin in the Assembly in March, the bill is now being reviewed by the Senate for eventual passage.

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