Virginia Press Association plans new statewide website for public notices

By JOHN REID BLACKWELL

Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia Press Association is creating a website where people can search for public notices published by newspapers across the state. The organization, a trade group for newspapers in Virginia, is planning to introduce the PublicNoticeVirginia.com website in April. It will include legal notices routinely published in newspapers and issued by government agencies and private entities such as law firms, contractors and utilities. Those include public meeting notices, foreclosure notices, requests for bids on contracts, and proposed zoning changes. “It is an added service that newspapers in Virginia are going to be providing to the public,” said Betsy Edwards, executive director of the VPA, which has 180 newspaper members, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, along with 40 other publications and businesses. Numerous other state press associations have created similar statewide public notice websites, Edwards said. The VPA contracted with the Illinois Press Association to help create the site for Virginia. Searching the Virginia website for public notices will be free. Users can search by city or county and also by date range. For a fee, people can sign up to receive emails alerting them about particular types of notices. The amount of the fee has not yet been set, Edwards said. Legal notices will be uploaded to the site by newspapers and other publications that publish them, and notices can be archived on the site for up to 18 months, Edwards said. Governments would still pay to publish notices in newspapers, but Edwards said the publications will not receive any additional revenue from the online service. The move to create the new website comes after some state lawmakers have challenged a longstanding law in Virginia that requires local governments and other entities to publish legal notices in local newspapers of record in affected communities. Legislation has been introduced for several years that would eliminate the requirement, allowing local governments to post legal notices on their own websites or at public buildings instead of in a newspaper. Backers of the legislation have argued it would help localities save taxpayer dollars. The bills typically have failed to advance from General Assembly committees. The VPA has lobbied against eliminating the requirement, arguing that many Virginians still rely on their local newspaper to get public notices. Edwards said newspapers are the only organizations that have the ability to aggregate public notices on a statewide basis and make them easily accessible on a single, regularly updated website. “I think what we are trying to demonstrate to the legislature is that the system is not broken,” Edwards said. “It works beautifully, and we are trying to enhance it and make it more accessible.”

jblackwell@timesdispatch.com (804) 775-8123

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