Newspaper bill passes after Senate stalls on cellphone legislation
Posted June 29
Updated June 30
Raleigh, N.C. — A multi-year push to strip profitable legal notices out of newspapers found partial success Wednesday after the North Carolina Senate seemed to tie the measure's fate to legislation that the cellphone industry wants to expand wireless service in the state.
The deal targets Guilford County, where Republican Sen. Trudy Wade has tried for years to allow cities and counties to place public notices required by state law online instead of having to pay to put them in newspapers. Unable to win House approval for a statewide change, Wade and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger settled for a pilot program that covers only Guilford County and its cities.
Critics said the deal puts a target on the Greensboro News & Record, which would lose significant revenue if Gov. Roy Cooper signs the bill and the local governments in Guilford County exercise their new option on legal ads and foreclosure notices.
"This is not a pilot program, it's a target program," Rep. Amos Quick, D-Guilford, said before the House voted 63-50 to back the bill.
The opt-out, which ran aground in the House as its own bill, was pasted into House Bill 205, which dealt initially with prison inmates and workers compensation. Wade denied gamesmanship to push the House to agree with the mashed-together bill, but as the legislature slogged toward midnight, Senate leadership continually dropped an important cellphone network bill to the end of its calendar, delaying House Bill 310's final passage without explanation.
That bill deals with wireless repeaters and what authority localities have over their placement.
Shortly before 11:40 p.m., with little but the wireless bill left on the calendar, Berger, R-Rockingham, called for a recess and told the chamber that something was happening in the House "that will allow us to go ahead and take care of another bill."
Berger represents part of Guilford County and has also supported the public notice bill for years.
At that moment, the House was debating final passage of House Bill 205, with Wade's newspaper language tacked in. As that bill cleared the House over objections from three Guilford County representatives, Berger exited the Senate's main doors and got an update on the House vote.
He returned to the Senate, which went back into session and immediately took up the wireless bill, passing it without debate. Asked after session whether one bill was held hostage over the other, Berger replied, "You know things fall into place in all sorts of ways."
Wade denied it.
"We weren't holding any bills," she said.
Guilford's opt-out would require cities or the county to pass an ordinance in order to move ads out of the paper and onto a county website. The governments would still have to mail notices or post signs when required by existing law, and they would have to advertise in the paper at least once a month for a year to tell people where to look for the ads online.
The bill also tinkers with the standards for newspapers allowed to run public notices. And it does away with a rebuttable presumption in state law that individual newspaper resellers are not considered employees under North Carolina workers' compensation rules. This will make it easier for newspaper carriers to file workers compensation claims.
"It was a special carve-out for newspapers," Wade said after the vote.