Legislator briefs NC Press Association on public notices

At a Feb. 27 legislative briefing in Chapel Hill, Rep. Chris Malone updated members of the North Carolina Press Association on a handful of issues related to the journalism industry.

Much of the discussion revolved around a proposal he helped defeat in the Statehouse last year that would’ve abolished the requirement of municipalities to publish public notices in newspapers. The industry rallied against the bill, arguing it would limit citizen access to public information. It also would’ve taken away a long-time source of newspaper revenue. Prominent supporters, including Henderson County Rep. Chuck McGrady and Speaker of the House Thom Tillis made the case that such notices are no longer a good use of taxpayer money in a technological age that allows municipalities to inform the public using their own websites.

Malone, a freshman lawmaker from Wake County, reported that the bill could come up again over the next year or two and urged publishers to be proactive in making the case against it to legislators. He also alleged that many of his fellow GOP colleagues’ support for the bill is motivated by bitter feelings towards the press as much as it is the goal of saving taxpayers money.

Tillis “thought it was maybe a little bit of a left jab,” he said. “He had issues with the press. …We Republicans don’t always think you’re fair.”

But despite his own questions about fairness, Malone told the room of roughly 40 publishers, editors and reporters from across the state that he thinks preserving the current notification rules transcend politics.

“You are the guardians of public speech. It’s not just a business,” he said. “We’ve got to tell people what’s going on – notifications are part of that.”

A few other highlights from Malone’s talk:

• He expects this year’s short session to focus on issues related to teacher pay. Medicaid reform and regulatory reform could also come up, he said.

• Rep. Tim More, a six term incumbent from Cleveland County, seems to be a frontrunner in the behind-the-scenes race to succeed Tillis as Speaker of the House, said Malone. Buncombe County Rep. Tim Moffitt is also on the short list, he said, although he worried that “Moffitt’s going to have a real fight on his hands” this year to win reelection.

• Asked if he sees redistricting reform passing anytime soon, Malone said: “No, never in a million years. …I don’t think it will ever happen.”

The event was part of the annual Winter Institute held by the North Carolina Press Association on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.

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Jake Frankel is an award-winning writer and reporter who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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