About the time my story on repealing Minnesota’s newspaper public-notice mandates went live, state legislative leaders were in the lion’s den, answering questions about the issue at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention in Bloomington.
Short version: Republican leaders, who are in the majority in both houses, didn’t foreclose any option. DFL minority leaders were firmly opposed to changing the current mandate; Sen. Tom Bakk offered a personal anecdote on the frustrations with getting the information online that may speak for many non-metro Minnesotans.
Here’s a transcript of the comments (which begin at the 33:45 mark in the video above):
GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers:
It’s something that we’ve had at the Capitol many, many times. It is part of a larger mandate relief bill that local government officials have asked for. So it’s not as if it’s something that’s a partisan issue. This has come up in the past from mayors, city councils and county commissioners from all across the state.
As one part of a bigger bill, this will get consideration in the House. I don’t want to lie to you and tell you it won’t come up. But we want your input, we want to find a solution.
Again, the way we’ve done things in the past … as many of you have had to adapt to the Internet age, you’ve changed the way you publish your papers, print them, distribute them, so we want your input.
Just because a bill is introduced doesn’t mean it’s going to become law. We repeat that very often for our freshman.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch:
Obviously, we think transparency in local government and state government and accountability is extremely important. I think public notices certainly have a role to play.
I do appreciate what the newspaper organizations have done to move into the next stage. To pretend like things are not changing in the print world is sticking your head in the sand.
So I would just say thank you for what you’ve done. A lot of my local newspapers, I think all of them, the public notices are online. So I think if there can be sort of a hybrid solution, I think we can come to that.
So let’s keep working on it, the local governments have come with this mandate relief bill, a lot of really good ideas in there, but we’ll just keep the dialogue going. Thanks for … I think you’ve already moved somewhat in that direction anyway.
DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk:
Well, this is an issue that’s been around the legislature for a long time, and I think the question that needs to be asked is, “By removing the public notice requirement in newspaper, are you making the government more transparent or less?”
I think that’s the fundamental question. The public needs to know what their elected officials are doing. That’s how you hold them accountable.
I can tell you where I live, on Lake Vermillion, my Internet Service is more than bad; it’s horrible. I almost never turn my computer on at home. I can’t get Qwest to put DSL out there, and my satellite Internet is so slow, it’s going to give me a heart attack some day.
That’s the fundamental question that needs to be asked: How many people do you disenfrancise by not giving them the opportunity to read the minutes of their City Council meeting, for instance, in the newspaper. And does it make government more accountable, or less?
So I do not support removing the public notice requirement.
DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen:
I agree with Sen. Bakk. This is an issue of government transparency and we need to make sure we draw the line correctly. … I agree that we should have public notice and make sure we get notices into local papers so people see what’s going on in local governments.