The Mississippi Legislature is considering a bill to seriously limit government transparency and prevent many Mississippians from knowing about the activities of their public agencies.

The vehicle to do this: HB (House Bill) 1131, a measure eliminating the requirement to publish in newspapers public notices about hearings, advertisements for bids, financial reports, adoption of ordinances and other government details.

The bill would instead consign public notices to a “free, public government website” in order to save the cost of the paid notices in newspapers.

The idea of saving money seems reasonable, but it is misleading. The state, counties and local municipalities would incur costs in developing numerous government websites at various levels and adding employees to curate, post and archive the notices in order to meet the legal requirements that they be accessible to the public.

But beyond the bogus savings, the bill would deprive many Mississippians of crucial information they are entitled to know. That’s because many seniors, lower-income residents and rural residents in the state are without Internet capabilities.

Mississippi currently has the lowest broadband penetration in the nation. Only 61 percent of the state’s households had a broadband (high capacity transmission) connection in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By removing public notices from newspapers and relying instead solely on the internet for distribution, government officials would turn their backs on those residents who can’t afford or don’t have access to broadband service.

Even those who are nimble at navigating the network would face obstacles. For example, someone residing in Meridian would need to visit the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County and any number of state websites to find the same information now found in one place, The Meridian Star. 

Newspapers provide universal access to public notices for Mississippians. What’s more, The Meridian Star – and other papers in the state – also posts the notices published in the paper on our website (www.meridianstar.com) for those people who get their information online.

Additionally, a statewide online network of aggregated public notices is already available to residents by visiting www.mspublicnotices.org. This website is maintained by the Mississippi Press Association and has been in existence since 1999.

If HB 1131 becomes law, it would duplicate services already available and end up wasting taxpayer dollars.

Our central concern, however, is the bill’s shading of government transparency. Statewide distribution of public notices through newspapers and their websites ensures that no matter where you live in Mississippi, you have access to important information about your government.

Furthermore, if the government controls the distribution of public notices on its website, there is the danger of unscrupulous officials or agencies hiding information from the public.

We invite you to contact your state legislators and let them know how you feel about HB 1131. You can find their contact information on the accompanying list or by visiting http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/members/hr_membs.xml.

It is of the utmost importance Mississippians get engaged in the debate to keep public notices public and accessible to all residents.

MISSISSIPPI HOUSE

Greg Snowden

Speaker Pro Tempore

District 83 (Lauderdale)

P. O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

(601) 359-3304

C. Scott Bounds

District 44 (Leake/Neshoba)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-3334

sbounds@house.ms.gov

Michael T. Evans

District 45 (Kemper/Lauderdale/Neshoba/Winston)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-3311

mevans@house.ms.gov

Stephen A. (Steve) Horne

District 81 (Clarke/Lauderdale)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-9392

shorne@house.ms.gov

Randy Rushing

District 78 (Leake/Newton/Scott)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-3371

rrushing@house.ms.gov

Omeria Scott

District 80 (Clarke/Jasper/Jones)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-4084

oscott@house.ms.gov

William Shirley

District 84 (Clarke/Jasper/Newton)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-2434

wshirley@house.ms.gov

Charles Young Jr.

District 82 (Lauderdale)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-2432

cyoung@house.ms.gov

MISSISSIPPI SENATE

Terry C. Burton

District 31 (Lauderdale/Newton/Scott)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-3209

tburton@senate.ms.gov

Videt Carmichael

District 33 (Clarke/Lauderdale)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-3244

vcarmichael@senate.ms.gov

Sampson Jackson II

District 32 (Kemper/Lauderdale/Noxubee/Winston)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-2886

sjackson@senate.ms.gov

Jenifer B. Branning

District 18

(Leake/Neshoba/Winston)

P.O. Box 1018

Jackson, MS 39215

601-359-3246

jbranning@senate.ms.gov

 

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