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Updated Mar 13, 2013 - 5:05 pm

House GOP, Democrats unite to defend transparency

PHOENIX — An effort to allow some cities and towns to post public notices
online instead of in paid newspaper advertisements divided the Arizona House of
Representatives Wednesday, with Republicans wary of unchecked government joining
Democrats to defeat the measure.

Nearly a dozen Republicans in the GOP-led House crossed the aisle in the 26-31
vote that defeated the measure endorsed by House Speaker Andy Tobin. The GOP
lawmakers said they didn’t trust government leaders to provide transparency
without outside observers such as newspapers.

They predicted cities and towns would hide the notices on government websites,
or quickly remove the postings, leaving no permanent record.

“We want to see more transparency in what government is doing,” said
Republican Rep. Jeff Dial of Chandler, who noted he ran for office because he
didn’t trust government.

Democratic Rep. Lisa Otondo, of Yuma, said government websites should not be
put in charge of the public record because they are updated by government
employees and are vulnerable to hackers.

Proponents of the measure said they wanted to free cities and towns from having
to spend public dollars on financially struggling newspapers with declining or
insignificant circulations. Communities with populations smaller than 100,000
people would still be required to publish notices in newspapers under the
proposed law.

“There is no boogeyman in this,” said Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth of
Gilbert. “It is simply the idea that we are going to be good stewards of the
public funds.”

Republican Rep. David Livingston of Peoria joked that he felt sorry for
lawmakers who had to wait “in this digital age” to find out news from
newspapers instead of getting instant Internet updates.

In a strategic move, Republican Rep. Warren Petersen of Gilbert, the bill’s
sponsor, also voted against the legislation, which allowed him to request that
it be brought back Monday for another vote. Petersen said he would seek feedback
on potential amendments, including language that would require local governments
to publish only some notices in newspapers.

Petersen said he found comments about government mistrust laughable because
House lawmakers work for and represent the Arizona government.

“Who are you talking about? You are them,” he said after the floor vote.

Newspaper leaders have rallied against the bill, while local governments back
it. Smaller newspapers would be especially hit by the loss of ad revenue, and
opponents worried the proposed law could force some publications to stop
printing.

Similar bills in recent years have failed to win passage.

The debate Wednesday often focused on the future of the newspaper industry,
which has struggled in recent years as readers and advertisers embraced the
Internet.

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills said public notices published
in newspapers are largely overlooked.

“I don’t go to the public notices section to find out about things,” he said.
“They read about it in the news section of the newspaper … or now they get
emails or Twitter feeds and all the other stuff.”

Republican Rep. Bruce Wheeler of Tucson said newspapers are a permanent product
that better serve the public compared with frequently updated websites.

“It’s not about whether you or I or the majority of the people read them.
That’s not the purpose. The purpose is it’s there to have a record,” he said.

Kavanagh said lawmakers need to be more concerned about local government
struggling to balance budgets.

“Guess what? Cities and towns need revenue so they won’t close parks,” he
said.

___

Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva

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