SHERIDAN — Wyoming state legislators are embracing the Internet as an official means of public communication in an effort to promote transparency and save money.
The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee, which includes Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, has carved out two bills for submission during next year’s legislative session that reduce the number of times notices must be published in an official newspaper in exchange for mandated online publishing of the same notices by both counties and municipalities.
Ron Harvey, a commissioner for Weston County, moderated work on the bills as a representative of the Wyoming County Commissioners’ Association. He said the proposed update to existing regulations saves governments publication costs and makes information easily available to constituents.
“In the long run, it will save cities, towns and counties money, and it will also make (them) more transparent,” Harvey said. “We’re giving the public a better opportunity and more opportunity to see what counties do every day.”
For example, current Wyoming law requires the base salary of county employees to be published two times: once with the job title and salary, and once with the employee’s name and salary. The draft bill provides for only one publication to include the job title, name and salary of county employees in one effort at a uniform time each year.
Rob Bonnar, president of the Wyoming Press Association, said the move toward some publications being moved to official county or city websites can increase governmental efficiency.
“This is our best effort to reflect local government’s responsibility to keep citizens informed,” Bonnar said.
In addition to consolidating information for more efficient use of newspaper space, the committee has proposed reducing the number of times official public notices must be printed in lieu of online access to the same information for specified periods of time.
One of the two bills being proposed provides that a county’s budget be posted online and once in a newspaper, where the previous requirement was for two newspaper publications; special and regular meetings must be posted online, and if a jail or courthouse is to be bought or sold, notice must be published both online and in an official newspaper for two, rather than four, weeks.
A complementary proposal establishes similar requirements for municipal meeting notices to be published both online and once in a newspaper. The measure also provides that applications for licenses or permits should be advertised on the appropriate county or municipal website, and reduces the required newspaper publications from four to two.
Wyoming State Liquor Division President Mike Moser expressed support for the newspaper publication reductions in the interest of saving money for small businesses. He said the liquor industry is frequently affected by license transfers when businesses change hands, and as it stands, publication fees can become a burden on small business owners and may delay the beginning of operations under new management while waiting for a liquor license to transfer.
“When we talk about these listings, we’re talking about money out of business people’s offices. When we’re talking about Cheyenne or Casper, maybe the cost of three or four consecutive postings isn’t a big deal,” he said. “But to a smaller business, that’s a sizable burden.”
“A reduction of any kind is a business-friendly thing,” Moser said. “Especially since we have other ways of notifying people.”
Both pieces of legislation received minor modifications and updated language. They will now be considered during the 2014 legislative session in Cheyenne, which begins Feb. 10.