TRENTON — Lawmakers on Monday failed to muster enough support for a controversial bill that would have allowed government agencies to post legal notices on their websites instead of in newspapers.
The proposal, which some say would limit government transparency, was pulled during the final voting session of the year but is expected to re-emerge in 2017.
“This is a huge win for the industry. We have been fighting for transparency for years,” said Mark Blum, publisher of The Press of Atlantic City.
Supporters of the newspaper bill worked throughout the day to rally support for the measure, including a three-hour-caucus meeting, but to no avail.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, who supports the legal notices bill, said it will remain a priority next year.
The Assembly also pulled a bill that would have allowed Christie to cash in on a book deal while in office and would have granted raises to staff members.
“The caucus engaged in a robust discussion today about the publication of legal ads and, clearly, opinions varied as to how best we can maintain transparency in this ever-evolving information age,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Bergen, Hudson. “We will continue this discussion and consider all options.”
Opponents of the legal ad bill claimed only a small group of insiders would know about the actions of government. Politicians also could use public notices to punish newspapers for negative stories, opponents said.
If the bill were approved, readers of newspapers in the state would no longer find notices of sheriff’s sales, planning board notices, municipal budgets and other information they have long been accustomed to in their papers.
The change was previously proposed in 2010.
“I think that bill has been up a number of times. There is clearly a large amount of money that is spent on legal notices,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Morris, Somerset, Union, a sponsor of the bill. “I think there is a better way to do it than putting them in the back of newspapers in small print.”
The Governor’s Office claimed the bill would save taxpayers more than $80 million, a number which has been disputed by the New Jersey Press Association.
“If the Assembly wants more time to consider the legal notices bill, that is acceptable to the governor. However, this will be a top priority when we return from the holidays,” said Jeremy Rosen, spokesman for the governor.
The bill would make New Jersey the first state in the nation to remove the requirement that government legal notices be published in newspapers.
Representatives of the state’s newspapers say the bill would cripple an already struggling industry and lead to the loss of about 300 jobs and the closing of some small newspapers.
“I think it will come back in the first quarter of 2017 before they meet again in March,” Blum said. “By then, we hopefully have the opportunity to get better data and have several meetings with other legislators that would hopefully be willing to partner with us to come up with a better deal.”