A joint subcommittee examining Virginia's Public Procurement Act on Monday rejected a proposal that would have phased out the requirement that state and local bodies publish requests for proposals in newspapers.
The Special Joint General Laws Subcommittee voted 6-1 to dismiss the proposal that would have made RFP publication discretionary beginning July 1, 2017. Sen. Bryce E. Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, cast the lone dissenting vote, but did not offer an explanation.
C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said that publishing RFPs and notices in newspapers are a revenue stream for media companies -- he called it the elephant in the room -- but noted that in the rural areas he represents, people still read the newspapers.
"People that still read [newspapers] are engaged in what our local government is doing," he said. "I think the best argument that can be made, if these proposals were not in those newspapers, those folks would not know anything about what their local government is doing unless they go to the meetings."
Virginia Press Association Executive Director Ginger Stanley expressed the association's opposition to the proposed legislation. She noted that during several meetings of the work group that developed the proposal, there were complaints of having to use newspapers to publish RFPs, but none showed that putting them online would save money.
She added that newspapers archive the information as well as verify that the notices ran when they should, where they should, and by sending affidavits to the public bodies, they have a record that the notices ran exactly as they should.
"We take on these costs of doing business with government entities as we fulfill our role in informing the public about their right to know what government is doing or planning on doing with taxpayer dollars," she said.
"Our commonwealth is just beginning a solid start at reform of our political culture and I believe that we will regain the public's trust," Stanley added. "However, removing RFPs from the one place where citizens know to go to find them and giving government control of the public notice process will limit citizen's access to information and be a blow to transparency."
Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, said he believes there would be savings if RFPs were no longer published in newspapers, but after Stanley's testimony considered the certification process of the notices.
"You all certify that it was done and properly posted," said Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax. "It's going to be the government saying that they put it on the website the proper number of times, and that's like the fox guarding the hen house."