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Something to Hide?

Something to Hide?

Once again, some legislators are trying to reduce West Virginians’ access to information about government, business activities that affect us and even matters that could affect our personal finances.

Why?

State law requires publication in newspapers of legal notices regarding certain important matters. Here are just a few topics on which public notices are required:

• Delinquent property taxes. Before your home can be sold for unpaid taxes, a public notice must be run, giving you one last chance to avoid the sale.

• When air or water pollution may increase, those responsible must publish legal notices.

• When an election is coming up, sample ballots must be published.

• When the state seeks to take a child from his or her parents, a notice is required.

• When your town or city plans to buy or sell something big, it must give notice.

• When a school system seeks higher taxes through an “excess levy,” details must be provided.

There are many other concerns on which public notices must be run in newspapers.

For several years, a few legislators have sought to reduce or even eliminate altogether the requirements for notices in newspapers. They insist they are merely trying to modernize the system and save taxpayers some money by permitting public notices to be posted on an internet website instead of in newspapers. A measure now before lawmakers, House Bill 4205, would reduce the number of times some legal notices must be published in newspapers.

Beyond any doubt, that would reduce exposure to many public notices. Look at it this way: Newspapers ensure delivery of such information. It will be found online only by those who go looking for it — if they have internet service at home. Many Mountain State homes do not.

By the way, the newspaper industry in our state already posts public notices online — free of charge — in addition to providing them in print editions.

What about saving taxpayers the cost of publishing legal notices? The biggest, the annual delinquent tax list, is paid for by those who owe taxes, not by the general public. Fees charged to those with back taxes actually generate net profits in many counties.

There is one fact that cannot be disputed: Shifting away from public notices in newspapers would reduce exposure to important information.

So it all comes down to this: Why reduce access to important information?

Or, to put it differently: What are they trying to hide?