News: Quick Takes

Cooper vetoes bill that newspaper industry has called a job killer

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill that would change the way local governments issue public notices and referred to the measure as an attack on newspapers. It was Cooper’s eighth veto this year.

In his veto message, Cooper, a Democrat, said the Republican-led General Assembly “used the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time.”

The bill went through significant changes before reaching his desk.

House Bill 205 originally adjusted worker’s compensation benefits for prison inmates injured while working for the state. Cooper said he would have supported the first version of the bill.

As it moved through the legislature, amendments were added requiring newspapers to treat their carriers as employees. The guy you see hawking papers in town or tossing a newspaper in your driveway almost certainly is an independent contractor, because it’s too expensive for publishers to hire him and offer health insurance and other benefits.

In the form that passed, H.B. 205 would change the amount of money government bodies have to pay news publications for legal notices, as required by law. It also sets new circulation requirements for newspapers used for government advertising.

The bill specifically allows government bodies in Guilford County to publish legal notices and surplus sale ads for the public on their own websites, provided they’re easily accessible. The county may post legal ads on its own website in exchange for a fee to supplement teacher salaries and other county needs.

The Guilford County exception was introduced as an amendment by Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from the county.

The governor expressed concern that legislators were purposefully trying to punish North Carolina newspapers, whose editorial boards have often been critical of Republican actions in recent years.

“Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media,” the release stated. “Legislation that enacts retribution on the media threatens a free and open press, which is fundamental to our democracy.”

Wade hit back with a statement of her own.

“Gov. Cooper’s veto of bipartisan legislation eliminating special carve-outs for the newspaper industry makes it clear his (No. 1) priority is brown-nosing those who cover him.”

The N.C. Press Association’s executive director, Phil Lucey, told Carolina Journal his organization supported the governor’s veto and “the public’s right to know.”

The newspaper industry group had called the provision classifying newspaper carriers as employees a job killer.

A NCPA statement in June took a harsher view after the final version of the bill was passed.

“The late night wrangling to make this bill pass should shock any citizen who believes in representative democracy and is a perfect example of lawmaking at its worst,” the statement read. “There is only one winner here, and that’s the senator who sponsored the bill and forced this issue at all cost.”

It’s no secret many local newspapers are mere shells of their former selves, and the industry continuous to struggle in the digital age.

John Robinson, a former editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, told Carolina Journal  that print ads may not be the cheapest way for governments to inform the public, but it supports local journalism.

Robinson took issue with Wade’s amendment.

“What I don’t like is that a Guilford County legislator who has quarreled with the newspaper has singled out Guilford County for her law,” Robinson said. “It appears unfair to newspapers here — one of which said it would cause [it] to go out of business — and seems personal.”

Indeed, the front page headline last week in the weekly Jamestown News of Guilford County read, “Trudy Wade’s bill will close Jamestown News. Governor’s veto is our last hope.”

  • JeffDeWitt

    The provision that legal notices can be published on a website instead of the paper makes perfect sense, especially as more people have access to that website than they do the paper, although that provision should have been for the whole state.

    More troubling is the proposed requirement that paper carriers be employees. That really does drive up costs for papers that are already in trouble, would cost jobs and the relationship between a paper and its carriers is really none of the states business anyway.

  • caesar

    The N/O is all for employers to treat their contract employees as employees until it’s time for them to do it with theirs! Hypocrites!

  • triadwatch

    North Carolina’s Public Notice laws are antiquated laws without vendor or marketplace competitive models. North Carolina public notice law currently forces state and local taxpayers to spend millions of dollars annually on hardcopy newspaper legal notices that are non-searchable, hard to read, wasteful and reach fewer and fewer people each year. Many of the public notice laws were established when printed papers were the only public media available. The public notice requirements in state law which always identify “publish in paid newspaper” have no basis other than to help the bottom line of newspapers in the State of North Carolina. The cost to taxpayers is determined by a monopolistic outdated business model and mainly from a single source provider. Many places no longer have daily newspapers.

    Millions of dollars of government and taxpayer moneys are paid at all levels of government each year on public notices. Technology allows multiple avenues in obtaining and distributing information through various media outlets such as wireless, internet, radio, television and newspapers. North Carolina State Law should reflect these improved methods of communication by identifying alternative publication methods that are cost effective and technologically advanced. All public notices should only be published in outlets for which there is no charge to the consumer to obtain them unlike the newspapers which charge you to buy a paid paper to see the notice. The monopolistic approach of choosing only newspapers as the exclusive repository of public notices is bad government. Government officials need to start thinking about 2017 public notice laws instead of 1940 public notice laws. These laws were made well before the computer came into existence.

    Here is a little question and answer from Howard Owens a digital media pioneer:

    Q. How will citizens benefit from online legal notices?

    A. Online publication opens up a wealth of opportunities for legal notice enhancements, from maps, links to related data, searching, greater and wider distribution (think Google), and continuous archives.

    Q. But not everybody has access to a computer or the Internet. Won’t this deny those people an opportunity to view legal notices?

    A. The flip answer is, not everybody reads a newspaper. The truth is, neither paper nor online have a monopoly on readership. Just as anybody can borrow a neighbor’s paper or go to the library to read a paper, everybody has a friend or relative with online access and the library offers free online access. For people with a real interest in online notice publication, such publication is equally accessible both online and in print. The online advantage, if any in this regard, is that the notice is still easily available days later if you happen to throw out your newspaper before seeing an important notice.

    It is time to overhaul the N.C. Press Association Monopoly Protection Act because all it does is keep the State of North Carolina in 1940 standards when we need to understand it is 2017 time for the cities and counties who want to provide this information to the people do so without having to waste plenty of taxpayers money.