Panels Eye Web Site for Public Notices; Two Legislative Committees Are Exploring the Feasibility of Putting Legal Notices Online

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Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Two legislative panels will look at whether to move at least some public notices online instead of requiring publication in the local newspaper, a proposal that has sparked sharp criticisms from cities and publishers.

Separate measures creating study committees in the House and the Senate passed the General Assembly after bills died in the 2008 legislative session that would have had the state hire a private company to create a public-notice Web site.

As more and more people get their news and information from the Internet, supporters say, it only makes sense to post the notices online - which include sheriff's sales, public hearings and foreclosures.

"It's just really, in my view, an antiquated system that has developed over probably 100-plus years," said Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, who sponsored the legislation creating his chamber's study committee.

Staton also authored Senate Bill 391, the measure that would have created the public-notice Web site.

The bill ran into fierce opposition from newspapers who argued that moving notices to the Internet would put them out of reach of Georgians without access to the Web and local governments who complained that it would cost them money.

"Staton mistakenly believes he is enhancing public notice when, perhaps unwittingly, he is taking the first fatal step toward making it even harder for residents to follow what local governments are doing," wrote Robert Williams, editor and publisher of The Blackshear Times. …