Publishing public notices in local newspapers is both costly and time consuming for New Jersey municipalities. In response, lawmakers are currently considering the “Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act.”
Under the proposed legislation (S-2855 and A-4429), government agencies would be authorized to publish legal notices on official government notice websites instead of in newspapers in every instance in which the law requires newspaper publication. The new electronic option would be available if the government agency has, for a three-month period beginning on or after the enactment date, published all legal notices both on its official website and in newspapers. The agency must also have provided notice both on its official website and in newspapers that the government agency may exclusively publish legal notices electronically going forward.
Below are several other key provisions of the “Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act”:
- A government agency that elects to exclusively publish legal notices electronically must create a notice website on which the required legal notices would be electronically published; designate officials to be responsible for these electronic publications and serve as contact persons who handle the intake and processing of electronic publication requests made by persons; and receive and review any complaints with respect to electronically published legal notices, which complaints would have to be made available for public inspection.
- Whenever an electronically published legal notice is inaccessible for 25 percent or more of the publication timeframe provided by law, the legal notice would have to be electronically published for the entirety of that timeframe beginning anew from the day on which access to the notice is restored, and the action for which the legal notice is required would be delayed accordingly.
- However, election dates and deadlines would not be delayed if an electronically published election legal notice is inaccessible for 25 percent or more of the publication timeframe provided by law.
- The Office of Information Technology would be required to establish on the State Internet website a webpage containing a directory of all government agency notice websites.
- Savings that a local government agency realizes from publishing legal notices electronically instead of in newspapers would have to be used solely and exclusively to reduce the amount required to be raised by the local property tax levy.
There is no current data regarding how much municipalities spend on publishing legal notices each year. However, the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) notes that local government agencies that choose to publish its legal notices on the Internet will likely achieve some level of savings. In 2010, the New Jersey Press Association reported that local governments spend approximately $20 million on the legally required publication of official notices. Approximately 60 percent of this amount is reimbursed by private parties. However, $8 million is funded exclusively by the local governments.
For more information about the Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.