Governor’s veto: It’s ‘premature’ to phase out required newspaper publication of county notices

Worried about “reducing transparency” in rural Colorado communities that still lack broadband, Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have phased out the required publication of certain county financial information in newspapers.

Senate Bill 18-156 was “premature,” the governor wrote in his veto letter, adding that the sponsors’ concept is “sound and the bill’s time is near.”

“But that time must closely align with full broadband availability through the state,” Hickenlooper stated. “To that end, we encourage the sponsors to bring this bill next year with trigger language taking effect not at a certain date, but rather once full broadband buildout is achieved.”

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cooke of Greeley and Democratic Rep. Chris Kennedy of Lakewood, would have changed a century-old law that requires each county to publish a monthly expense report and a twice-a-year employee salary report in a local newspaper. Beginning in 2022, counties would instead have been permitted to “conspicuously” publish the financial reports on their official websites if they also published links to them in at least one newspaper.

State Senator Larry Crowder (R), Alamosa, said he opposed the bill for economic development reasons and had been lobbying the governor to veto the bill.

“Newspapers hire people also,” Crowder said in an email Wednesday. “And if funds dry up, layoffs ensue.”

County officials requested the bill as a money-saving measure, and the sponsors acknowledged that some newspapers could be hit hard by the loss of revenue. But Hickenlooper noted that, according to the nonpartisan fiscal note on the bill, the cost savings to counties would range from $100 to $500 per county per year.

“We certainly appreciate the desire of counties to find cost savings and rely more on cost effective online resources,” he wrote. But “until all communities have full online access, we should not force Coloradans to the internet to review public notices when some have no internet access to do so.

“… Until more certainty exists when full buildout can be achieved and behavior has shifted, we cannot support legislation reducing transparency in one of the few mediums available to communities lacking broadband.”

Colorado Press Association CEO Jerry Raehal had asked for a veto in a letter to the governor, noting that “Colorado citizens have relied on legal notice advertising in newspapers throughout the state to be informed of important governmental actions since statehood.”

(Jeffrey A. Roberts is executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition which is supported by newspapers across the state.)