(UPDATED: Despite the warning from Sen. Ronda Storms that the end of newspapers will soon be here, the Senate Community Affairs Committee refused on Tuesday morning to approve Storms' bill that would have allowed cities and counties to stop advertising in newspapers. Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, called the thought of print newspapers dying "terrifying" and said that the Senate will spend the summer studying the potential impacts of the legislation. Several local government officials said they supported ending the legislation. Mayor Richard Kaplan of Lauderhill told Storms "When the Miami Herald is bankrupt then where is it going to be published?")
A Senate panel today will take up a measure that could have a dramatic impact on Florida newspapers across the state if ultimately adopted by the Florida Legislature.
The measure, SB 2292, would allow local governments to place legally required public notices on a government website as opposed to printing them in newspapers. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, who is pushing other bills designed to lower costs for government entities, including one that would remove requirements that money must be set aside to buy art for new state buildings.
The legislation spells out that legal notices can be placed on the Internet as long as the local government has a library or other facility where members of the public can access the Internet for free. Another requirement is that the government allow members of the public to register to receive notices by mail or e-mail.
While there is no definite revenue impact associated with the legislation, the Senate bill analysis notes that "the impact of this legislation on the newspaper industry is indeterminate but likely to be substantial."
Florida newspapers have been hit hard by twin factors: The migration of readers to the Internet and the recessionary forces that have curtailed ads from major sources such as car dealers, department stores and real estate.
This has led newspapers across the state to cut down on the size of newspapers as well as the size of their staffs. There is rampant speculation that at least one, if not more, newspapers in the Sunshine State could be forced to shut down in the very near future. (Full disclosure: I was among those affected by a round of layoffs at The Miami Herald and I still freelance for various news organizations.)
In many towns and cities, the daily newspaper prints legal notices for everything from tax liens to comprehensive plan amendments. However, it is worth noting that in some large metro areas those ads do not always appear in the large metro paper, but in smaller papers that also circulate.