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Senator accuses Cooper of ‘brown nosing’ after veto of newspaper notice bill

July 17, 2017 GMT

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Monday that targeted Guilford County newspapers for a loss of government advertising revenue.

One small-town newspaper owner had said the change would close his publication.

House Bill 205 came from long-standing push by state Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, to roll back state requirements that various legal notices run in a local newspaper, something local governments must pay for. She scaled the bill back this session to turn it partially into a pilot program in Guilford County, home to the Greensboro News & Record and a handful of other papers.

Publishers from the county implored the governor to veto the bill, and the Jamestown News ran a front-page banner headline promising “Trudy Wade’s Bill Will Close Jamestown News.”

“GOVERNOR’S VETO IS OUR LAST HOPE,” it announced earlier this month.

Wade and other bill supporters, including Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican whose district includes parts of Guilford County, said the bill was about modernizing legal notices and saving local governments money. It would have allowed governments to publish notices on a website instead of paying to advertise in a local newspaper.

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This would have been a local option, not required.

Cooper dismissed the bill as an attempt by legislators to use “the levers of big government to attack important institutions in our state who may disagree with them from time to time.”

“Unfortunately, this legislation is another example of that misguided philosophy meant to specifically threaten and harm the media,” he said in a veto statement.

Wade said in her own statement that Cooper’s “veto of bipartisan legislation eliminating special carve-outs for the newspaper industry makes it clear his number one priority is brown-nosing those who cover him.”

The bill had some statewide impact, including from language that dealt with part-time newspaper carriers and would have made it easier for them to file worker’s compensation claims.

Wade said Cooper’s “brown nosing” was “to the detriment of the newspaper employees being denied workers compensation coverage” as well as “the taxpayers currently being forced to subsidize newspapers.”

There was also language doing away with a requirement that newspapers have a physical address in the county in which they sell public notice space. That would have opened the door for the North State Journal, a statewide publication launched by former members of Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration, to run government notices.

This bill passed the House 60-53, which is not enough of a margin to overturn Cooper’s veto. The count included four Democrats who voted for the bill and 14 Republicans voting against. The Senate vote was 32-14.

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The bill was stuck in the House for some time and didn’t pass there . Moments after the House approved Wade’s bill, Berger announced that the Senate would move forward on the wireless bill, and both bills passed in the waning days of the recent legislative session.

Greensboro News & Record Editor and Publisher Daniel Finnegan said in a statement that Cooper deserves “a great deal of credit for standing up to the General Assembly.” One of the arguments newspapers made against the bill was that people without internet access would not see important public notices.

The bill continued a state requirement, though, that some notices be mailed to affected people, or be advertised with a sign where appropriate.

“I think we made a strong case to him that this bill is not about improving transparency and seems to be an attack on newspapers’ 1st Amendment rights,” Finnegan said. “This bill would compromise transparency in Guilford County, not improve it, and jeopardize the public’s right to be informed about important issues.”