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Maine governor: Printed legal notices prop up dying industry

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Laws requiring legal notices to be published in newspapers prop up a “dying, antiquated industry,” Maine’s Republican governor said in the latest example of his antipathy toward the press.

Gov. Paul LePage has said journalists use words to destroy people and make his remarks seem racist. The governor, who once apologized for telling a boy that he’d like to shoot his Bangor Daily News cartoonist father, has most recently called for governmental oversight of newspapers and retreated to interviews on talk radio shows and conservative websites.

Legislators on Thursday overrode LePage’s veto of a bill that requires the continued posting of newspaper legal notices on a publicly accessible website.

The Democratic-controlled House overrode the veto with a 121-22 vote, while the Republican-controlled Senate voted 32-0.

The bill, which has now become law, does not address existing requirements that legal notices be printed in newspapers.

But the governor says he couldn’t support the bill because lawmakers must explore eliminating such a “mandate,” which he calls a “taxpayer subsidy of the worst sort.”

“It serves to blur the line between a free press and one dependent on the state for revenue,” he said.

The issue has been debated in other states.

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie said he’ll make such a change a priority this year. Christie said the change would save taxpayers and residents $80 million, but the state’s newspapers have disputed that math.

Lobbying efforts from publishers have stopped similar efforts in other states.

LePage also said the Legislature should explore maintaining adequate notice to the public through online notices, and said it’s good policy given the “ubiquity of the internet in our modern life.”

Right now, the Maine Press Association operates an online website that lets the public view newspaper legal notices from all the state’s approved daily and weekly newspapers.

Maine Today Media CEO Lisa DeSisto said that broadband access isn’t a given in rural areas of Maine and that it’s important for the public to have access to legal notices in print and online.

“To assume everyone would be able to look up public notices online, that would not be accurate,” she said.

Democratic Rep. Roland Danny Martin, the bill’s sponsor, said total traffic to the website last year grew by nearly 9 percent over 2015.

Gary Gagne of the Maine Daily Newspaper Network testified in support of the Maine bill in February and said that public notices serve as “one of the few regular and official communication channels that exist between levels of government and citizens.”

“Newspapers, in print and online, act as an independent third party to publish, post, and archive public notice information so that it is available to the largest audience of citizens possible,” he said.

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