Senator BRIAN P. STACK
District 33 (Hudson)
Permits publication of legal notices by governments and individuals on official government website instead of newspaper.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
An Act concerning electronic publication of certain legal notices and supplementing Title 35 of the Revised Statutes.
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. This act shall be known and may be cited as the "Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act."
2. The Legislature finds and declares:
a. There has been a steady decline in newspaper readership in the past several decades, while, at the same time there has been an increase in the number of households with access to the Internet.
b. The State of New Jersey, its 21 counties, and many of its 566 municipalities maintain official government websites that are available to the public 24 hours per day.
c. Many legal notices published solely in newspapers go unread and unnoticed by the public because casual newspaper readers generally do not read the legal notice section.
d. Permitting the publication of legal notices on official government websites will make those notices more easily accessible to a greater number of people, thereby promoting increased public participation in government.
3. For the purposes of this act:
"Electronic publication" or "electronically publish" means the public advertisement of a legal notice in hypertext markup language format (html), or an equivalent language format, on an official government Internet website in accordance with P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
"Government agency" or "agency" means any public entity under the laws of New Jersey required to publish legal notices.
"Legal notice" or "notice" means any matter of a government agency or an individual that, pursuant to law, rule or regulation is required to be officially advertised in a newspaper in accordance with R.S.35:1-1 et seq.
"Notice website" means an Internet website that is maintained by a government agency, or by a third party under contract with the agency, that contains links to the legal notices electronically published by the agency.
"Official Internet website" or "official website" means the Internet location designated by a government agency as its primary source of information about the agency on the Internet.
4. Whenever a government agency or an individual is required by law to publish a legal notice in one or more newspapers, the government agency or individual may cause the required notice to be published on an official government notice website instead of a newspaper, provided all of the following requirements are met:
a. The government agency, or the host of the notice website, shall enter into a service level agreement with an Internet service provider that guarantees the site is accessible to the public over the Internet at least 98% of the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; and
b. The government agency's official Internet website, the notice webpage containing links to the legal notices, and the webpages containing the actual legal notices, shall be designed to comply with the accessibility standards of section 508 of the "Rehabilitation Act of 1973," as amended (29 U.S.C. s.794d); and
c. The government agency's official Internet website containing the notice website shall be registered with the State Office of Information Technology, in but not of the Department of the Treasury, for posting on the State Internet website that lists Internet sites of agencies; and
d. The government agency's official Internet website shall prominently display a link to the notice website, which shall be an index webpage containing a list of all current legal notices of the agency, with links to the full text of those notices, not just to summaries of those notices. The index webpage shall also contain a search function and other features that improve public accessibility to legal notices; and
e. (1) Each webpage on the official website with a link to the notice website or index webpage, as well as the notice website itself, shall contain an e-mail link to submit a complaint to the government agency if access to any legal notice fails;
(2) The government agency shall review all complaints reported pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection to determine the cause of any access problem and shall document the findings and any action taken to resolve it;
(3) The government agency shall keep and make available for public inspection all records of complaints and service accessibility failures reported pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection; and
f. Whenever an individual is unable to access an electronic publication of a government notice, the government agency shall provide a copy of the notice to the individual free of charge; and
g. Notices shall remain available on the notice website at least until the last posting date required by law has expired or until the event described in a notice has taken place, whichever is later; and
h. The government agency shall create, or have provided by the notice website contractor, and keep on file a certification or affidavit of posting required for each legal notice in the same manner as is done for printed notices. The affidavit or certification shall state that the notice was posted from the initial date through either the last posting date required by law or the date when the event described in a notice takes place, whichever occurs later, except that a certification shall not be required to be notarized; and
i. The government agency shall designate one or more contact persons to handle the intake and processing of legal notices requested to be published by an individual, and shall comply with the additional requirements of section 7 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), concerning the Internet publication of legal notices required to be published by an individual.
j. The government agency shall designate an official to be responsible for electronic publications and shall post that official's name and contact information on the notice website.
5. Proof of publication of an electronically published legal notice for the purpose of complying with public notice requirements shall be satisfied and deemed conclusive upon the provision of the certification or affidavit described in subsection h. of section 4 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) by the official responsible for the electronic publication, stating that the notice was posted from the initial date until the last posting date required by law.
6. A local government agency may elect to electronically publish legal notices on a notice website in accordance with section 4 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) provided:
a. Dial up access to the Internet is available without telephone toll charges generally throughout the jurisdiction of the local government agency; and
b. Regular public Internet access is available without charge within the jurisdiction of the local government agency through the public library or at some other location; and
c. The local government agency adopts a resolution at the annual meeting at which the official newspaper is designated, if applicable, to provide for electronic publication of legal notices on a notice website; and
d. (1) he local government agency publishes a legal advertisement once a week in one or more official newspapers having the highest circulation within the jurisdiction of the local government agency, announcing that legal notices are posted on the agency's notice website, in the following form:
"Internet Posting of Public Notices: (name of local government agency)
"The (name of agency) announces that public notices on the following matters are posted on the (name of agency) public notice website: http://www._______________________ (substitute Internet address protocol in common usage if different);"
(2) Each legal advertisement required under paragraph (1) of this subsection shall close with the following:
"Free public access to the Internet is available within the (insert name of county, municipality or service or jurisdictional area of the local government agency) at (list all known locations). If someone is unable to access the Internet, individual copies of notices can be obtained by calling (insert appropriate agency phone number);" and
e. All local government notices electronically published are available in printed form in the office of the clerk of the county board of chosen freeholders, the municipal clerk, the secretary of the local government agency, or other appropriate office, as the case may be; and
f. When a municipality does not have an official website, the municipal legal notices shall be published on the existing official website of the county in which the municipality is located, in accordance with the provisions of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
7. An individual required by law to publish an official notice in one or more newspapers may cause the notice to be published on an appropriate State or local government notice website instead of a newspaper, provided:
a. The appropriate State or local government agency maintains an official notice website in accordance with P.L. , c. (pending before the Legislature as this bill); and
b. The individual shall contact the appropriate State or local government agency and complete a written request for the publication of the legal notice; and
c. The appropriate State or local government agency shall cause the notice to be published on its official notice website at no cost to the individual, and the notice shall meet all of the necessary content and time frame requirements stipulated by law; and
d. The appropriate State or local government agency shall provide the individual a copy of the electronically published notice, and a copy of the certification or affidavit of publishing required under subsection h. of section 4 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
8. Within 6 months of the enactment of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the Director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs shall promulgate rules and regulations, pursuant to the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B 1-et seq.), in order to effectuate the provisions of this act.
9. This act shall take effect on the first day of the seventh month next following enactment, however, section 8 of this act shall take effect immediately.
This bill authorizes individuals, as well as local, county and State government units, including school districts, to meet publication requirements for legal notices by posting such notices on officially designated government websites, so long as Internet accessibility and reliability requirements are met. Nothing in this bill alters existing notice content and publication time frame requirements, nor does this bill eliminate an individual or government entity's ability to meet publication requirements through newspaper publication as set forth under current law.
By giving individuals and government entities the option of Internet publication of legal notices, this bill expands public access to important government information. First, the bill expands the geographic availability of legal notices, many of which need only appear in one local or regional newspaper under current law. Under the provisions of this bill, Internet publication is only available to local governments when the local government can establish that free public Internet access in available in the jurisdiction. This bill further requires that a link to the notice webpage be prominently displayed on the homepage of the publishing government entity and that the notice webpage address be advertised, along with a listing of free public Internet access locations, in one or more newspapers within the jurisdiction. Additionally, publication websites must be accessible online at least 98% of the time on a continuous basis and the government entity must provide free copies of such notices when an interested person is unable to access the official website.
Internet publication of legal notices also allows postings to remain available to the public for greater lengths of time. Because websites have far greater capacities than a single print edition of a newspaper, the same legal notice could remain posted on official notice websites for several months or more, thereby allowing residents more opportunity to view the information. Nothing contained in this bill limits the length of time that a legal notice can remain posted on an official website, except to set minimum publication requirements to Internet publication. Therefore, official websites can, under this law, make legal notices available to the public for longer periods of time.
Additionally, official websites can be designed to allow flexibility in sorting and searching for legal notices. Official websites could provide users with the ability to search for legal notices by date posted, county or other geographic categories, or the subject of the posting. This bill does require that notice websites have search capabilities and other features to improve content accessibility.
This bill also requires an individual wishing to publish a legal notice on an official website to contact the appropriate local, county or State government entity to formally request that the legal notice be published. Such publication is only available when the applicable government entity maintains a notice website or otherwise publishes legal notices pursuant to the provisions of this bill. Furthermore, when a municipality does not have an official website, this bill allows for municipal legal notices to be published on the website of the county in which the property is located.
Proof of publication of all Internet published legal notices shall be ascertained in the same manner as if the notices had been published in a print newspaper. The Director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs is required to promulgate any rules and regulations in order to effectuate the provisions of this bill.