A bill would allow government agencies to reduce their advertising in newspapers

A measure allowing state and county agencies to stop publishing certain official notices in Hawaiian daily newspapers was approved Thursday by a key Senate committee over objections from the publisher of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and other critics.

Senate Bill 2111 would allow Hawaii government agencies to post public notices on agency websites rather than in newspapers, which Senate Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads said would “enable the ‘State to save a lot of money’.

The bill was part of a package introduced by Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration and is backed by half a dozen county and state agencies, including the Tourism Authority. of Hawaii and the state departments of Lands and Natural Resources, Transportation, and Health.

Departments say they can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year if they are allowed to buy fewer newspaper ads, but moving ads to government websites would be another financial blow to Hawaiian newspapers, said Star-Advertiser President and Publisher Dennis Francis. .

State lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow state and counties to cut costs by reducing the legal advertising they buy from Hawaiian newspapers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

The Star-Advertiser is published by Oahu Publications Inc. and has resorted to layoffs in recent years as other types of advertising revenue has declined and the pandemic has crippled much of Hawaii’s economy. The company also imposed furloughs for employees in 2020.

Oahu Publications also publishes the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today on the Big Island and The Garden Island on Kauai, and Francis said newspapers on neighboring islands rely much more on advertising than the Star-Advertiser.

The loss of government advertising “definitely wouldn’t help,” he said.

But the state Department of Lands and Natural Resources said in written testimony that the bill will make the public notification process “simpler, faster and more efficient.”

The Health Department acknowledged in testimony that many residents and communities still rely on printed newspapers, but said public notices “of substance or of great public interest” such as hearings for new rules of state, public meetings or contested case hearings are governed by other specific laws. .

For these issues, state law would still require publication in newspapers and on the Internet even if the bill were passed, according to the health department. But the proposed new law would allow the ministry to cut costs by phasing out advertising that deals with more technical and obscure material.

“Examples of annual cost savings this measure will provide include $100,000 for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, $100,000 for Wastewater Variance Displays, $5,000 for underground injection control and $30,000 for clean air permits,” according to the health department.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, expressed concern that allowing government agencies to post public notices on official websites rather than in a newspaper “would increase the divide in government services and accessibility. between those who have access to broadband and those who do not”.

She suggested that only “routine, non-critical public notices” be posted on official websites rather than in a newspaper, and said agencies that plan to move the notices to websites should post regular announcements of this plan in physical publications for at least one year before they place notices exclusively online.

Francis pointed out that the Star-Advertiser website already publishes legal government ads online, and said the four Hawaiian newspapers have 28 million monthly page views.

“To suggest that there would be some obscure government website that would have more eyeballs than our newspaper print product and what we have on our digital website” is wrong, Francis said. “If our circulation was a thousand, that would probably be a lot more than any government website for a legal announcement would ever get.”

SB 2111 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and is now before the full Senate for further consideration.

Ashley C. Reynolds