Assembly approves bill allowing public notices for some free distribution papers

A bill that will make free distribution newspapers eligible to publish public notices in municipalities that do not have a paid distribution newspaper was approved Feb. 20 by the state Assembly.

Assembly Bill 731, which was drafted with input from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, was approved on a voice vote without discussion. Its companion bill – Senate Bill 627 – has been approved at the committee level and is ready to be scheduled for a vote by the Senate.

AB 731 and SB 627 seek to address coverage gaps in some parts of the state where communities no longer have a paid circulation newspaper that is eligible to publish public notices. Local officials from those areas have been approaching the Legislature on a regular basis arguing that because they do not have an eligible newspaper to publish public notices, the local government should instead be allowed to fulfill publication requirements by posting notices on their own government websites.

Under this legislation, free distribution newspapers will need to meet the same eligibility requirements for publication frequency, amount of editorial content and distribution currently dictated by law for paid circulation newspapers.

The bill also makes some much-needed technical updates to the definition of a newspaper under the public notice law, including the continuity of legal status for publications in the case of mergers and sales and creating a news content requirement.