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May 7, 2021

Editorial: Bill deserves to be vetoed

Deeds speak louder than words, so it’s hard to have faith in state Sen. Trudy Wade’s insistence that she wants to take public notices out of newspapers and off newspaper websites to improve citizen access.

Wade, R-Guilford, was the instigator of a bill to allow local governments in all 100 counties to post public notices about meetings, hearings and such on their own websites, along with legal notices for which lawyers would then have to pay the government. Wade claimed that state laws requiring such notices to be published in local newspapers amount to government subsidies. Putting these notices only on government websites, she said, would be a move into the modern age and save taxpayers money.

When other lawmakers didn’t embrace Wade’s statewide proposal, the senator trimmed the initiative down to a four-county pilot project and tacked it on to House Bill 205, which addressed worker’s compensation. Support for that Wade scheme also failed to materialize, so she made literally an 11th-hour maneuver before the session ended, whittling down the amendment to include only her home county. It passed 60-53 on a vote that was taken at 11:47 p.m. on June 28.

“This is not a pilot program,” said Rep. Amos Quick, a Greensboro Democrat. “This is a target program. The target is the News & Record newspaper of my hometown, Greensboro.”

Wade has been unhappy with News & Record news stories and editorials, including coverage of a 2015 law, Senate Bill 36, which would have restructured Greensboro City Council elections. Courts declared that Wade-sponsored bill unconstitutional earlier this year — another example of the overreach that has plagued this legislature.

Back to public notices — there’s one more twist to Wade’s words. The bill appears to open the way for statewide papers such as the fledgling North State Journal to siphon off public notices from local newspapers. The North State Journal is published by a former Gov. Pat McCrory staffer; its VP of sales was once a senior adviser to Republican McCrory. Investors in the paper’s parent company include Republican Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

What was that about the modern age and subsidies? Wade’s efforts speak more of old-fashioned spite, with a dash of cronyism. Gov. Roy Cooper should veto House Bill 205 and hold North Carolina lawmakers to a higher standard. Wade’s actions are all too telling.

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