TRENTON, NJ – New Jersey lawmakers last week delayed their vote on a measure that would allow legal notices to be published digitally on Internet websites. The legislators pushed off action until after the holidays.
The proposal, opposed by print newspapers, would end print media’s lucrative monopoly on publishing paid legal notices, a steady source of revenue for print newspapers statewide.
The proposed law was sponsored by Republican Senator Michael J. Doherty and Democrat Senator Jim Whelan.
The measure would give municipalities the option to publish legal notices on their own websites or have them published online by a third party. A summary description of A4429/S2855 states:
Permitting the publication of legal notices on official government websites will make those notices more easily accessible to a greater number of people, thereby promoting transparency and increased public participation in government. At the same time, costs for government agencies and persons would be reduced, in part providing property tax relief to taxpayers in our State’s local jurisdictions.
In addition to print newspapers and municipal websites, legal notices could also be published by a third party on a “notice website” as described below:
“Notice website” means an Internet website that is maintained by a government agency, or by a third party under contract with the agency, that is contained within an official Internet website, and that contains links to the legal notices electronically published by the agency. “Official Internet website” means the Internet location designated by a government agency as its primary source of information about the agency on the Internet.
If local governments switch from print newspapers, and other options are allowed, they could publish legal notices on their own websites or through a third-party provider.
New Providence Mayor Al Morgan said he likes the freedom of choice the proposal offers. “My thing is I just don’t want people to mandate where you have to advertise it,” he said. “The town should have a choice. I don’t believe in the state mandating it.”
The measure has been promoted as a way to cut municipal spending, an argument challenged by print papers but supported by Morgan. “This is a big cost savings for the municipality,” he said. “If they lift the mandate, towns are going to go different ways. They can publish in a local online newspaper or on their own municipal site.”
Morgan noted that many towns do not have websites that can accommodate the legal ads. “So it will up to them if they want to upgrade or publish with an online newspaper,” he said. “I love (online news sites). That’s where I get my news. We would have a link right on our website.”
In Union County, there are several options, including TAPinto, a hyperlocal online news network that has sites in Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Elizabeth, Kenilworth, Mountainside, New Providence, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle/Roselle Park, Scotch Plains/Fanwood, Springfield, Summit, Union and Westfield.
These TAPinto sites in Union County had more than 169,465 unique readers in November alone, said TAPinto CEO Michael Shapiro.
He cited certified self-reported numbers provided by print publications themselves showing the following paid circulation: The Union County Local/Source had a yearly paid circulation of 5,112 from September 2014 through September 2015. The Leader/Times has a yearly paid circulation of 8,086, La Voz of Elizabeth has a bi-monthly paid subscriptions of 38,000. The Luso Americano, a Portuguese language newspaper, has a weekly paid readership of 14,600. The Home News Tribune has a yearly paid circulation of 18,614 and the Courier News has 9,451 yearly paid subscribers. Throughout the entire state, the Star-Ledger has a daily paid subscription circulation of 194,085.