ONA-supported measures on open records also move forward 

By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director

Dennis Hetzel

Hetzel

True to form, legislators tried to shove as much lawmaking through the funnel  as possible this week before going home for the summer and the fall campaign season.

For us, the big news is that HB 483, containing ONA language on the state public notice website, is now headed to Gov. John Kasich. This is a small part of a large, budget review bill, and the governor is expected to sign it into law. Because the measure involves appropriations, Kasich could use his line-item veto authority to excise specific provisions, but we do not have reason to believe that will happen to the public notice language.

So, what’s the impact? First and foremost, we have positioned ourselves for the future. Citizens will continue to be able to find public notices in an easy, accessible way in the digital space.  The Ohio newspaper industry knows and understands this business, and is in the best position to do that.

Assuming our language is signed into law, in approximately six months from that date, newspapers will be required to upload to the ONA site, www.PublicNoticesOhio.com , in order to qualify to publish many notices.

This now will be the “official” public notice website for Ohio legal notices, removing the need for the state government to operate a site that was legislated in 2011. We argued at that time that the state was duplicating something the private sector already was doing at no additional cost to taxpayers. Our efforts to make this change have been ongoing for more than three years.

As previously stated, the changes in the law will not be an issue for most ONA members. The print notice still is required and remains primary. Most newspapers have been uploading to the site for some time.  If anything, you will be better positioned to offer great service to your government advertisers.

It will become easier for local governmental bodies to take advantage of cost savings that were written into the law in 2011. This is optional to the local agency and affects certain local government notices in which there is more than one print placement. We felt this was a reasonable trade in order to achieve the overall goal.

If you’re not uploading to the site, you should get a head start. Contact Jason Sanford, our content manager, and we can get you going. In most cases, you can do this with an automated feed that requires little or no intervention once set up.

Be assured that we will reach out to all ONA members in multiple ways to communicate and support once we know this measure is a reality.

Here is some other, last-minute activity worth noting:

Several ONA members responded to our appeal to urge legislators to dislodge HB 175 from committee. This would establish a database of state government expenditures in the state treasurer’s office. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Dovilla, was voted out of committee, passed by the House and sent to the Senate on Wednesday.  The Senate should consider it this fall.

We achieved an important amendment to HB 74 in the Senate Finance Committee this week. It protects journalists from potential criminal prosecution if someone tried to argue that coverage “urged and incited” cyber-bullying and harassment by telecommunications.  We still hope to tweak this language a bit.

Bills (SB 6 and HB 10) that would make it easier to remove elected local officials for serious malfeasance in office are moving through the Legislature with much better language that no longer raises serious issues or new exceptions to open meetings and open records.

SB 143, a reform to various provisions of criminal law, is on its way to Gov. Kasich with ONA-supported language that removed concerns that records of juveniles being held in adult facilities would be secret.

As always, we welcome your comments and questions.  I’m at dhetzel@ohionews.org .

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