By John Celock
A Kansas newspaper publisher compared a bill to allow local government legal notices to appear in online publications to the “motivations of terrorists.”
Dan Thalmann, the publisher of the Washington County News and Kansas Press Association president, made the comparison during a hearing on the bill Monday in front of the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee. The bill, proposed by Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), would allow local governments across the state to have the option of printing legal notices in an online publication for free instead of a print newspaper. Local newspapers across the state have opposed the bill.
“This bill lets government control the message, it suppresses information, and it’s a retaliation bill against newspapers who don’t agree with their actions,” Thalmann said in his prepared testimony. “These concepts are motivations of terrorists and they shouldn’t be the hallmark my Kansas Legislature”
Thalmann told The Celock Report following the meeting that he made the comparison based on what has been said of why the bill was introduced. He said that there is concern that the Legislature is seeking the bill, which could cost local newspapers funds from the publication of government legal notices, for several reasons not related to saving taxpayer funds.
“I basically went through in my testimony that the things I felt about this bill that were a bad deal was put it government in control in their own information,” Thalmann told The Celock Report. “Because of the lack of internet access it could suppress info. People are saying it is retaliation for the big newspapers who take liberal positions.”
Newspaper owners and the Kansas Press Association have opposed the change to online only publications, arguing that it would give government control of information. This is the second bill from Claeys this year on legal notices, with the first allowing local governments to print the notices online. The KPA has said they would consider having notices posted online and in print but oppose an online only option.
Claeys has said that his bill is solely focused on saving money.
“We’re responding to calls from our cities, counties and school districts, who are all seeking efficiencies to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “They see these publication costs as wasteful in the age of the internet and so do I.”
Claeys condemned Thalmann’s comparisons to terrorism saying that the motivations of terrorists are far different. He accused Thalmann of engaging in scare tactics.
“The concepts and motivations of terrorists murdered thousands of Americans on a September morning in 2001,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “It’s a hallmark of bullies and thugs to attempt to intimidate legislators with that type of language.”
Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita), a member of the Commerce Committee, said that he does not believe Thalmann’s language belongs in a legislative hearing.
“I believe that language like that is not helpful in the political discussion,” Whipple told The Celock Report. “It’s at best destructing and at worst insensitive and mean spirited.”
Whipple said that he does not have a position on the bill currently. He said with a desire by committee members to work on some changes to the bill he wants to see the finished product before deciding how to vote. He said that from his conversations about the subject, he knows that the issues that Claeys is seeking to address have existed for a number of years. He declined to speculate if politics played a role.
Thalmann, who stressed that he supports the Kansas state Legislature, raised questions on why Republicans wanted to make the change. The vice chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, he has made the argument before that the GOP should not be pushing the bill.
“We’re supposed to be a conservative Republican state and here’s a bill that smacks in the face of transparency and issues that are important to Republicans,” he said.” One of the things that makes me a Republican is I don’t trust the government. Why is a Republican doing this?”
Claeys stressed that the bill will increase transparency, noting how legal notices are published in parts of the state.
“Tell that to the people of Wyandotte County, the fourth most populous county in the state with 160,000 residents where notices are published in a newspaper outside the county that only reaches 1,000 households,” Claeys said. “The residents of Wyandotte County have access to Google Fiber but not a newspaper with legal notices for their county. They simply are not served by the current law and would easily have more access if these notices were on the internet.”
Claeys said that he believes that with the rate of internet access in the state at 89.3 percent, he believes that his bill will increase access to legal notices.
“That’s higher than the national average,” Claeys said of the rate. “There’s no reason to be concerned about a lack of access when comparing that number to newspaper circulation.”