The Saratoga Sun -

Your right to know is at stake

 

February 19, 2020



Much like a bad penny, attempts by the Wyoming Legislature to remove public notices from the pages of Wyoming newspapers, and leading to less informed constituents, have returned. Despite the failure of three similar bills last year, these bills—HB0050, HB0051 and HB0052—would amend Wyoming State Statute to where the only notice required would be on the state procurement website.

On Friday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved these three bills. These pieces of legislation, having now passed the House, will go onto the Senate for debate and a vote. The Saratoga Sun, in our mission to ensure that the public is informed of how their government is running, is providing you the nature of these bills and how your local representatives voted on them.

HB0050

Status: Passed 3rd Reading 53-7

Representative Jerry Paxton: Aye

Representative Donald Burkhart: Aye

This bill intends to amend the procedure for government procurement and includes school districts. Currently, under Wyoming State Statute 21-3-110, school districts are required to place a call for bids for purchase of insurance, supplies or materials that are equal to or more than $25,000. That call for bids is, by current state statute, required to be published in “a newspaper of general circulation in the district.”

Additionally, any school building to be built costing more than $50,000 or any repairs to a building which will cost more than $50,000 requires the school district to publish a call for bids “in a newspaper of general circulation in the state” for two consecutive weeks.

Under the proposed amendments from HB0050, purchases of $25,000 or more could be published on the state procurement website in addition to being published in a newspaper. With school building construction or repairs exceeding $50,000, bids would not be required to be published in a newspaper.

HB0051

Status: Passed 3rd Reading 50-10

Representative Jerry Paxton: Aye

Representative Donald Burkhart: Aye

This bill intends to amend procurement for professional services. Currently, notice of professional services exceeding $50,000 are required to be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the state at least once a week for two consecutive weeks.

HB0051 would remove that language and only require publication for two consecutive weeks on the state procurement website.

HB0052

Status: Passed 3rd Reading 59-1

Representative Jerry Paxton: Aye

Representative Donald Burkhart: Aye

With HB0052, the bill intends to remove and modify language currently in the Wyoming State Statute regarding how public contracts are issued. As it currently reads under Wyoming Statute 15-1-113, before any contractor receives a final payment for their contract, a municipality or joint powers board must publish a notice 10 days prior to that final payment.

Additionally, the legislation would remove language that requires a certificate of substantial completion be published in three consecutive weeks in a newspaper. Instead, it would be published on the state procurement website or the official website of the municipality or joint powers board.

To put this issue locally; the Carbon County Impact Joint Powers Board would not have been required to publish a notice of substantial completion for the lagoon project in the Saratoga Sun. In the future, the Upper Platte River Solid Waste Disposal District would not be required to publish a notice of substantial completion for the landfill closure in the Saratoga Sun.

What This Means

The publication of legal notices in Wyoming newspapers is a small part of a budget for any governmental agency, whether it is a municipality, county or joint powers board. This small budget item pays huge dividends in the public’s right to know, in keeping the government open and available to the public.

Beyond the financial issue, however, is the limitation of access to the public. On Friday, Representative Hans Hunt (R - Newcastle) introduced amendments to all three bills that would extend the amount of time required for public notices to be published in newspapers. Those amendments were, ultimately, voted down. 

Hunt argued that there are still many people in small Wyoming towns that read their newspaper and that newspapers are a part of their community and local economy.

Representative Cyrus Western (R - Sheridan) noted that senior citizens still read their paper religiously, something that we at the Sun can certainly attest to.

Other representatives, including Burkhart, were of a different opinion as they argued that “newspapers in small communities have disappeared” and “communities don’t need the newspapers to know about a project.”

The Saratoga Sun wholeheartedly disagrees with these statements that newspapers have disappeared and that communities don’t need newspapers to know about a project. It is because of these community newspapers that the populace can remain informed on important projects. We know of many readers who closely examine the public notices section of our own paper.

For over 100 years, people in Wyoming have known that they can go to their local newspaper to view public notices. In addition, as some representatives have argued that “everything is going online,” the Wyoming Press Association has a free, mobile friendly website that allows readers to view public notices from every newspaper in the state.

Even more important, when these public notices are published in a newspaper they cannot be changed or corrected on a whim. The same cannot be said for notices that would be published on the website for a municipality or the state procurement website.

If you, like the Saratoga Sun, would like public notices to remain, well, public, then contact your representatives. Here is the contact information for your local representatives:

Senator Larry Hicks

Email: Larry.Hicks@wyoleg.gov

Phone: 307-383-7192

Representative Jerry Paxton

Email: Jerry.Paxton@wyoleg.gov

Phone: 307-327-5373

Representative Donald Burkhart

Email: Donald.Burkhart@wyoleg.gov

Phone: 307-321-7074

 

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