Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - Updated: 2:05 AM
Few things are more critical to maintaining a free society than keeping an informed public. It's something we hope the Kentucky Senate Committee on State and Local Government will consider as it votes on Senate Bill 118.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Will Schroder (R-Wilder), contains language that proposes local school districts may forego posting public notices in county newspapers of record. Instead, these taxpayer-funded entities would only need post district financial statements to their own websites -- for 90 days -- and place a small notice in the paper directing residents to where they can view these statements.
We're willing to concede a few points up front. First, we understand that the notice isn't entirely gone, though it is severely condensed and comes with another layer of tape when it comes to public view. And in the interest of full disclosure, we acknowledge that we have stake in this legislation: Legal notices make up a healthy percentage of revenues for local newspapers. Pulling that kind of income could be the death toll for a number of publications in an industry that has suffered a considerable blow with the rise of the Internet.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly to our residents in Trigg County, this legislation doesn't extend beyond educational districts.
â ¦ Until it does.
And in this lies the point of contention. Approval of this bill just makes it that much easier to open the door for such legislation to apply not only to school districts but city and county governments, as well. Such bodies in smaller communities often lack sophisticated, working websites. And let's not forget about lack of Internet access to publics in poor, rural areas of the state.
In Trigg County, an area arguably better off than many in Kentucky, about 82 percent of residents have access to broadband Internet services, according to data provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. While most have access to a mobile network, some 7,000 residents don't have wired access to high-speed connections of 25 mbps or more. As a whole, about 1.6 million people are without Internet connection speeds of 25 mbps; 162,000 residents in Kentucky have no wired Internet providers where they live at all; 496,000 Kentuckians have access to only one wired provider, leaving them with no options to switch, making the service potentially cost prohibitive to maintain.
We recognize that these are statistics directly related to broadband service, and we acknowledge these statistics are improving with each year. However, it's a sticky situation. Broadband services are becoming as crucial to everyday life in our society as electricity and water services. Legislation such as the proposed SB 118 could potentially force that move, which is purely unattainable from a financial standpoint for many residents.
Bottom line, this bill is another step in erasing government transparency. We take no small issue with the fact that it's being vetted by the State and Local Government committee rather than the education committee, as anything else pertaining to educational districts would.
It is worth noting that the bill's sponsor, Schroder, has a seat on the State and Local Government Committee. Among his colleagues on the committee is Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), the same senator who has actively sought for years to remove public notices from newspapers and previously sneaked in language in the state budget to take all notices out of newspapers and then told his counterparts it dealt with only counties of 300,000 or more.
Seem a little odd? We think so. Government transparency might not be what this particular committee has in mind.