Local governments in Pennsylvania and in some cases, the state government, long have been required by state law to publicly advertise meeting notices, bid solicitations and other important public information.
Now, under the false premise that eliminating that requirement can save public money without adversely affecting public disclosure, the Senate Local Government Committee has approved a bill that would allow local governments to post such information only on their own websites.
First, our own disclosure: The Daily Review and every newspaper that publishes paid legal advertising, has a financial stake in this issue.
That said, it is for very good reasons that the law requires public notice advertising in publications of general circulation. Most often, that means a daily newspaper.
That phrase, general circulation, is descriptive. It means that people don't have to go looking specifically for important information in a place designated by the government, that broadly circulating the information means that as many people as possible will see it.
That's still the point, despite the ability of local governments to post the information online.
Consider, say, a local government construction bid. There's no better way to ensure that a contractor favored by a local government official has an edge for a contract than to post it only on the government's own website. A contractor might know to look for it, but all contractors in the region would have no idea.
The issue is of particular importance in Northeast Pennsylvania where, due to the high percentage of older people, Internet use is significantly lower than in much of the state. The same is true statewide, in comparison with other states.
And, even people who go online rarely go to local government websites, which are among the least visited. No local government website could come close to the number of The Review's website readers.
The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association also operates a website, mypublicnotices.com, that posts all public notices by all local governments statewide, for free.
Local government officials and some state lawmakers would like to pretend that no costs are attached to truly open government, but they are wrong. Their plan would be equivalent to only posting notices on the borough building door.
Sen. John Blake, a Lackawanna County Democrat, voted to move the bill out of committee, but should consider its implications for local governance before it gets any farther.