On December 12, 2016, the New Jersey Legislature revived a six-year-old proposal to allow municipalities and other government agencies to forgo advertising legal notices in newspapers and, instead, post such notices on websites.
New Jersey law currently requires municipalities to publish certain notices “in at least one newspaper published and circulating in the municipality, and if there be no such newspaper, then in at least one newspaper published in the county in which the municipality is located and circulating in the municipality.” N.J.S.A. 40:53-2. This places a large financial burden on municipalities. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, a single municipality spends an average of $7,150 per year on legal advertising.
The proposed “Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act” (S2855/A4429) would amend N.J.S.A. 40:53-2 and allow a municipality to publish legal notices “either electronically on the notice website of the municipality or applicable county” or use traditional newspaper publication and advertising.
Although the bill has bipartisan support and has been lauded as a cost-saving measure, many legislators are critical of the bill. Some legislators and lobbyists have claimed that such is a “revenge bill” fast-tracked by Governor Christie, as a way to penalize the media for its coverage of the Bridgegate scandal. Others, such as George White of the New Jersey Press Association and State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) have expressed skepticism about the cost-saving claims, given the increased need to manage municipal websites in order to post such notices. Moreover, White points out that a website publication of a notice may disenfranchise seniors and low-income residents and prevent citizens from determining whether the text of a notice has been altered or if it was published on the correct date.
The passage of this bill would drastically change the way municipalities could post legal advertisements; however, it is important to recognize that such a proposal has been made numerous times to the New Jersey legislature.
The December 19th vote on the bill by the New Jersey Assembly was postponed and it is unclear when another vote will be scheduled.