Some Forsyth lawmakers voted for controversial legal ad bill

N.C. General Assembly

Some Forsyth lawmakers voted  for controversial legal ad bill
December 14
05:00 2017

When the N.C. General Assembly reconvenes next month, many observers expect to see House Bill 205 resurrected for debate, and possible passage.

If that happens, publishers of small community newspapers like The Winston-Salem Chronicle say the loss of revenue from switching required paid legal notices that traditionally run in those publications, to the websites of local and county governments, will be substantial.

In some cases, it is enough to close many small newspapers down.

When Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill July 17, he accused state lawmakers of using, “… the levers of 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.

“Legislation that enacts retribution on the media threatens a free and open press,” Gov. Cooper continued, “… which is fundamental to our democracy.”

The bill that reached the governor’s desk was supposed to be relegated only to Guilford County as a test case, with the prospects of later expanding to other cities and counties statewide.  State Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) was the sponsor.

Sen. Wade has been at war with local newspapers in Greensboro, particularly The News and Record, and some suggested that her measure was designed to hurt those papers by depriving them of significant traditional revenue. Wade has denied that, but has then called the paid legal notices, “… special carve-outs for the newspaper industry.”

So where does Forsyth County’s legislative delegation stand on this issue?

According to the North Carolina General Assembly vote record for HB 205, on June 28, Forsyth County representatives Debra Conrad (R-District 74) voted aye; Julia Howard (R-District 72) voted aye; and Donny Lambeth (R-District 75) voted no.

On the Democrat side in the House from Forsyth County, Ed Hanes (D-District 72) voted aye; and Evelyn Terry (D-District 71) voted no.

Rep. Hanes was matter-of-fact about why he did support the measure.

“I voted for it after getting Winston’s/Forsyth County’s papers removed from the bill,” he told The Chronicle in a statement. “I subsequently supported the Governor in his veto of the measure. Nothing major behind it.”

On the Senate side, Joyce Krawlec (R-District 31) voted no. Sen. Paul Lowe (D-District 32) had an excused absence from the session the day of voting, but his office says had he been there, Lowe would have voted against the bill.

“If he were present, the senator would have voted against HB 205,” Tyler Ford, Sen. Lowe’s spokesperson, told The Chronicle. “HB 205 cuts down ad revenue for smaller newspapers and as much as we like to believe that everyone has access to the internet, they do not.”

Lowe’s Republican colleague from Forsyth, Sen. Krawlec, told The Chronicle, “ I voted NO each time this bill came before me. I am very concerned that many residents in rural communities do not have access to internet services. Also, many senior citizens still depend on the local paper for access to local news, and are not comfortable using the internet.”

Krawlec continued, “Even those who do use the internet for news, go to the news sites. Very few people explore the county websites for local news. I believe many citizens may not have access to much-needed public notices if counties are allowed to only post on county sites.”

Rep. Lambeth, in a statement to The Chronicle, said, “I have consistently voted NO on this bill. Lots of reasons for a no vote.” But Lambeth did not spell out what those reasons were.

Reps. Conrad, Terry and Howard were unavailable for comment at press time Tuesday.

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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