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Rep. Howard J. Hunter III

Proposed legislation that would allow local governments in 12 northeastern counties to only publish required legal notices on their websites may be pulled from consideration.

Bertie, Pasquotank, Camden, Perquimans and Chowan counties are among the dozen eastern counties covered by House Bill 51.

But state Rep. Howard Hunter said Friday that language in the bill needs to be changed in order for it pass the General Assembly and become law. Hunter, D-Hertford, and state Rep. Ed Goodwin, R-Chowan, are both sponsors the legislation.

Hunter said that language in the bill needs to be changed in order for the legislation to proceed. Goodwin likewise said language in the bill will likely be changed before it advances.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on Tuesday.

Under current state law, local governments are required to post public notices in a newspaper of general circulation in their county. But HB 51 reads that public notices may be published on local government websites “in lieu of or in addition to the required publication or advertisement.”

Hunter said “in lieu of or” needs to be changed to “and”, which would mean local governments would still be required to publish public notices in newspapers as well as on their websites.

“I don’t think that bill is going anywhere,” Hunter said if the language is not changed. “We are trying to get the bill fixed. If it’s not right, the bill is supposed to be pulled. It’s a bad bill if you read it right.”

Critics of the legislation say as it is currently written, governments could more easily operate in the dark if they are not required by law to publish public notices in newspapers.

Public notices notify citizens of government actions on such issues like competitive bidding, rezonings, budget hearings, auctions, property transfers, delinquent tax notices, street name changes and more.

Previous attempts to remove public notices from newspapers have failed, including in 2017 when Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a similar bill passed by the General Assembly.

North Carolina Press Association Executive Director Philip Lucey said the current legislation is a bad idea, particularly now “when a public health crisis calls for greater transparency, not less.”

Having public notices on published on government websites would force citizens to search for them, critics say.

“(Public notices) alert the public to disruptive land-use changes for things like sewer plants, asphalt plants and garbage incinerators,” Lucey said. “They tell the public in advance about proposals for traffic-clogging high-density developments and plans for wider roads or new roads.”

Hunter said the intent of the bill is to give local governments another “tool in their tool box” to advertise public notices.

A reporter for the Daily Advance, Paul Nielsen can be reached at pnielsen@dailyadvance.com