Lawmakers will reconsider a proposal to allow Florida government agencies “the option to post legal opinions on a publicly accessible website rather than in a printed journal,” according to a House staff analysis.

Online records show that a “committee bill,” or PCB, has been filed with the Florida House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, chaired by state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. He is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday at 9 a.m., records show.

Representative Erin Grall listens during a press conference held by Governor Ron DeSantis with Speaker of the House Chris Sprows and other lawmakers on combating foreign interference in Florida colleges and universities, highlighting the emphasis on preventing China and other countries from stealing intellectual property on Capitol Hill Monday, March 1, 2021.

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Generally, bills must be introduced before the start of the legislative session, which was January 11, but PCBs can be introduced at any time at the discretion of a committee chair and ultimately the chair of the House, Chris Sprows, R-Palm Harbor.

“The bill was introduced once again to help ensure that Floridians have greater access to public notices and that government entities have more cost-effective and modern options for posting required notices,” Grall said in a statement. press release received Monday evening.

Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said only that he was “open to considering” the House bill.

Rep. Randy Fine answers questions from reporters after a meeting of the House Select Committee on Gaming which he chairs in the Knott Building on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

The battle over newspaper legal notices has been fought, on and off, for most of the past decade. The news industry reached an agreement last session with lawmakers on the understanding that the matter was settled.

This agreement resulted in the passing of a law (HB 35), which this year’s 40-page bill would largely reverse. Among other things, it expanded “the number of newspapers that can benefit from the publication of legal announcements, including free newspapers,” the analysis says.

Last year’s legislation also allowed “a government entity to publish legal opinions on a newspaper’s website” and on the Florida Press Association’s website “instead of publishing in the print edition of the newspaper. “. This law also required the Press Association to “ensure that minority populations in the state have equitable access to legal advice.”

Jim Fogler

Press Association President Jim Fogler said last year’s bill was negotiated between the Legislature and the newspaper industry. He does not know why this year’s legislation was introduced.

“We thought we all agreed that we needed to give the market time to see if our legislation was working, to bring more players to the table to create competition and protect taxpayer interests, but also keep government activities in the public,” he said. said Monday.

“It is important that there is transparency in how our elected officials govern and we are responsible for informing the public… We are the good guys to do it, not the government,” he said. added. “We felt like we had a good deal… so for it to come back now, we just don’t get it.”

Print companies, including Gannett, which operates 18 daily newspapers in the state as USA TODAY NETWORK–Florida, have opposed similar legislation that has been introduced over the past decade, saying it would more difficult for the public to know about the important government. meetings and policies.

In a 2019 editorial, the newspapers said such bills “have a devastating effect” on the public’s ability to learn about government activities.

Read the editorial:HB 1235 aims to keep you in the dark | Our opinion

“By putting legal notices on government websites, instead of print and online editions of newspapers, there will be an 80-90% reduction in the visibility of information,” he said. “For example, had over 100 million page views in 2018, in addition to the Democrats’ print circulation., by contrast, only had about 15 million page views.”

Supporters of the bill in recent years, such as state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said the legislation would save governments the “tens of millions of dollars a year” that ‘they spend on “newspaper print ads in public notices”. .”

“This bill would in effect allow those public notices to go online, which is now the primary means of consuming content,” Fine said last February.

The bill would also likely hit newspaper bottom lines, which continue to face strong headwinds in their digital transformation.

Another bill being considered this year would make it easier for companies to sue local governments if a company could prove that a local law cost 15% of its profits. It does not apply to acts of the state legislature.

Contact Jim Rosica at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JimRosicaFL.

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