The impact a section written into the Ohio budget bill will have depends on how well the governing agencies were already complying with existing law, an Ohio Newspaper Association (ONA) official says.
Rumors are swirling around about the potential impact of the changes on smaller communities, but the law already required government entities to post their ordinances prior to the new budget bill taking effect.
According to an existing section in
the Ohio Revised Code, a succinct summary of each municipal ordinance or resolution and all statements, orders, proclamations, notices and reports required by law or ordinance to be published shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipal corporation.
It also requires that proof of the publication and required circulation of any newspaper used as a medium of publication as provided by this section shall be made by affidavit of the proprietor of the newspaper, and shall be filed with the clerk of the legislative authority.
“The new law preserves the principal that public notices belong first and foremost in newspapers,” said ONA Executive Director Dennis Hetzel. “We also agreed to language that helped government agencies save some money.”
The new legislation took effect Oct. 1.
Hetzel said the new legislation should make it less expensive for communities, given they had already been in observance of the law.
“The new legislation expands the definition of what is considered a newspaper of general circulation,” Hetzel said.
The new law forces publishing entities to offer the lowest rates possible to government entities. Newspapers cannot have a separate fee that is higher for legal advertisements.
The city of Wapakoneta already publishes all its ordinances and resolutions in the Wapakoneta Daily News.
Still, several communities in the area say the new legislation could have huge financial impacts if ordinance requirements are enforced.
Waynesfield Village Council members discussed the new legislation in September and were attempting to get further clarification from their village solicitor.
Other communities also expressed a concern with the law.
“We have one to five ordinances brought to council each month,” Cridersville Mayor Lorali Myers said. “This could have a significant impact on our general fund. It is a cost that we are not prepared for.”
Botkins Village Administrator Jesse Kent said he was not aware of the new legislation but was concerned of potential economic impacts.
“I’m assuming they are looking for more transparency,” Kent said, “but it would cost $5,000 a year to publish everything. That is certainly a sizable cost we would not be expecting.”
Buckland Mayor Dan Lambert said village council members pass few ordinances and would not be significantly impacted by the law.
The new law also expanded on what is considered to be a qualifying circulation newspaper, including publications circulated for free. Hetzel said that most communities have circulated publications that would qualify.
The qualifying newspaper must:
• Have been in business for at least three years immediately preceding publication requirement.
• Publish at least once a week.
• Print in English using standard methods and be at least eight pages in broadsheet format or 16 pages in tabloid format.
• Contain at least 25 percent editorial content that “includes, but is not limited to, local news, political information, and local sports.”
• Have the ability to add subscribers to its distribution list.
• Circulate generally by U.S. mail or carrier delivery in “the political subdivision responsible for legal publication or in the state, if legal publication is made by a state agency.”
Proof of this can be an annual Postal Service statement or an independent audit performed within the prior 12 months.
There is an appeal process with a mediator for protesting a determination that a publication qualifies.
However, the law may still not have an impact on smaller communities unless enforcement is stepped up.
Hetzel said there was not any stiffer enforcement put into the law, meaning smaller villages likely could still operate on the status quo.