Toward the end of the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday April 10, 2018, Chairman Steve Champion brought up legal notice expenditures for the county, noting that the county spends over $100,000 annually, publishing notices through the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.
Florida’s Sunshine Law requires governmental entities to publish legal/public notices in order to notify citizens of upcoming meetings, hearings, tax notices, tax sales, zoning changes, comprehensive plan changes, etc.
The legal notice requirements are an attempt to notify the public before something major takes place. This offers the public a chance to be heard before a change to the law is enacted, taxes are raised, or important discussions take place. If the public does not receive a notification they miss out on their chance to be heard. Newspapers have always provided a centralized location for citizens to access information which legal notice publication law takes into account.
How legal notices are published is defined by state law. A county or city cannot just post it on their website or social media. Only newspapers who have met a specific set of requirements can publish a legal notice including:
– Publishing once a week or more
– Entered as Periodicals Matter through the US Post Office in the county in which they are published
– Newspapers for sale to the public and contain information of interest to the general public
– 25% English language
– In existence for one year
– Less than 75% advertising content- per the US Post Office
– Periodical publications be “formed of printed sheets” per the US Post Office
– At least 50 percent of the publication’s distribution go to persons who have paid above a nominal price per the US Post Office.
With the internet, the requirement for legal notices to be printed in a newspaper, may seem antiquated. Chairman Champion advocated for the county to be able to place their public notices on their own website and a revamping of the state public notice law.
The last time substantial changes were made to public notice law was in 2012. Among the changes was the requirement for newspapers to begin uploading each published legal notice to a statewide database: floridapublicnotices.com. This was done in an effort to adapt to the increasing digital consumption of news and information.
The governmental entity has the option of contracting with a newspaper to publish their public notices or can request that a newspaper publish a notice outside of a contract on a per notice basis.
Full Disclosure: The Hernando Sun newspaper is qualified to publish legal notices.