PHOENIX - A House panel voted Thursday to let cities and counties put their legal notices online instead of in newspapers.
The 4-2 vote came despite objections from newspaper publishers and their lobbyists who insisted there needs to be independent verification that information is being given to voters.
"I don't believe any government can be trusted enough to police itself," said lobbyist Jonathan Paton. The former state legislator is now representing Wick Communications, which publishes 14 newspapers in the state.
The bottom-line argument of newspapers is their independence from government. Government may have "a vested interest in not providing public notice on a given issue," Paton said.
But the supporters of HB 2533 were persuaded by the cost to taxpayers of paying for notices to be published in print.
A lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Dale Wiebusch, presented legislators with a list of what 50 cities now spend meeting the current legal requirement to publish their notices. It totaled $1.8 million a year - not including Phoenix. The figures vary widely, however, with half of that cost incurred by Mesa. By contrast, the league's figures put the annual price tag for Tucson at $26,380.
The trade-off could be weakening already financially embattled newspapers.
Manuel Coppola, publisher of the Nogales International, told the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure that public notices comprise 25 percent of his budget. He said losing those revenues would mean the loss of two staffers.
In voting against the measure, Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the legislation "would kill our newspaper," which would ultimately hurt the community.
But Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said the problems of newspapers are due to declining subscriptions and are irrelevant to this discussion.
And supporter Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said readers who do not have Internet at home can go to public libraries to access the information. "Why should we be subsiding a private entity when we have all this?" he said. "The Internet is here now."
The measure still needs review and approval by the House Government Committee before going to the full House.