Transparency is a principle of our governmental system that transcends political parties and ideologies. Yet almost every session of the Indiana legislature sees prospective bills aimed at diminishing the average Hoosier's opportunity to stay informed about what their tax dollars are being used for, or what public officials are doing.
Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, said Thursday he is still combing through the bills that have been introduced in the current session. But there are at least two proposals to reduce the public's traditional access to information through the state's newspapers.
One is contained in House Bill 1003, a measure addressing various educational regulations introduced by Indiana Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen. The bill would eliminate the publication of annual public-school performance reports in local newspapers.
The other is House Bill 1310, introduced by Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw, which would set limits on how much a government agency could pay a newspaper for printing a public notice. Newspapers charge agencies for those required publications based on lineage; Wolkins' proposal would cap the amount the agency could be charged at $300, regardless of the size of the advertisement.
Key said he has been assured HB 1310 won't receive a committee hearing. HB 1003 will receive a second hearing in the House Education Committee on Wednesday. “We are still waiting to see whether they're going to take that provision out or leave it in,” Key said.
Legislators who support efforts to eliminate public-notice advertising argue that it's no longer necessary to “subsidize” newspapers through those ads because most papers have seen falling print circulation. Besides, they say, there are other avenues to present information these days. Notices could be posted in government buildings. Parents with access to broadband internet could still see how their children's schools were faring, for instance.
But those parents must be diligent enough to remember to check a state website or tenacious enough to regularly drop by government office buildings just to check the bulletin boards. And newspaper readers still include Hoosiers who are not online – they might not have access to financial and academic data on school websites, but it's information they need to know when a school referendum is on the ballot.
As HSPA points out, newspapers with print and online readership still reach far more readers than low-traffic state websites.