September 8, 2010
LEGAL NOTICE REQUIREMENTS
By: Terrance Adams, Legislative Analyst II
You asked for information about legislation in recent years concerning advertising municipal legal notices in newspapers.
The Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee favorably reported bills in 2009 and 2010 that would have allowed municipalities to publish legal notices on municipal websites instead of advertising them in newspapers. In 2009, the bill died on the House calendar. In 2010, the bill died in the Planning and Development (P&D) Committee. Additionally, in 2010, the P&D Committee considered two bills of its own that concerned legal notices, but ultimately did not report any legislation on this subject.
The House Republican leaders proposed legislation to allow municipalities to publish legal notices on their websites instead of advertising them in newspapers. The GAE Committee subsequently voted to draft a committee bill (HB 5214) and held a public hearing on March 23.
At the hearing, the bill's supporters included the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, Chester's first selectman, and Representative William Hamzy. In testimony, they argued that the bill would save municipalities money and increase access to legal notices. COST pointed out that, with many smaller newspapers going out of business, towns may have to advertise legal notices in larger papers, further increasing advertising costs.
Opponents included the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The attorney general stated that newspapers provide an independent, permanent verification of the notice; conversely, a website posting could be altered or deleted. The council disputed the idea that municipal websites increase access, arguing that the websites do not have regular, sizable audiences and do not reach substantial communities the way newspapers do.
The GAE Committee favorably reported a substitute version of the bill that incorporated minor and technical changes to the House floor. The House referred the bill to the P&D Committee, which favorably reported the bill back to the House, where it died on the calendar.
GAE Committee Bill (SB 365)
In 2010, the GAE Committee raised a bill (SB 365) concerning the publication of legal notices that was similar to the bill from the previous year. However, in order to post legal notices online, the raised bill required municipalities to be in compliance with a law (CGS § 1-225) that requires them to post meeting minutes to their websites (this law was later changed, see BACKGROUND).
The committee held a public hearing on the bill on March 8, with supporters and opponents making arguments similar to those from 2009. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and COST supported the bill, testifying that it would provide mandate relief and add transparency. CCM estimated that municipalities' advertising costs for legal notices exceeded $2 million statewide. It also testified that online notices could remain posted indefinitely, whereas newspaper notices appear only for the allotted time paid for.
The Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association (CDNA) and the Freedom of Information Commission opposed the bill, noting that not all citizens have Internet access. CDNA, while acknowledging the financial importance of legal notices to newspapers, argued that the bill would reduce accountability in local government.
On March 24, the GAE Committee favorably reported a substitute version of the bill. The substitute language limited the legal notices that could be posted online to notices for the procurement of goods and services, such as requests for proposals and bid solicitations. It maintained the provision that allowed only those municipalities in compliance with the law on posting meeting minutes to post the legal notices online.
The Senate subsequently referred the bill to the P&D Committee, where a vote on the bill failed.
P&D Committee Bills (HB 5031 and HB 5255)
The P&D Committee raised two bills (HB 5031 and HB 5255) in 2010 that contained provisions allowing municipalities to post legal notices online instead of advertising them in a newspaper. It held a public hearing on March 10, where the bills' supporters and opponents made arguments similar to those made to the GAE Committee. The P&D Committee's vote on HB 5031 failed, and while it favorably reported HB 5255 (which later became PA 10-171), it reported a substitute bill that removed the provision concerning the posting of legal notices.
Connecticut statutes require public agencies to advertise numerous notices in a newspaper, including notices of meetings, hearings, referenda, ordinances, and many others. The newspaper must have a substantial circulation in the town in which at least one of the parties, for whose benefit such notice is given, resides. The law allows the notice to be advertised in a weekly newspaper (CGS § 1-2).
The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies of the state and its political subdivisions, within seven days of a meeting, to (1) make the meeting minutes available for public inspection and (2) post them to the agency's website, if available. PA 10-171, effective October 1, 2010, exempts town, city, borough, or district agencies from the requirement to post minutes on the Internet.