[First Reprint]

SENATE, No. 2072

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

214th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JUNE 10, 2010

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  BRIAN P. STACK

District 33 (Hudson)

Senator  GERALD CARDINALE

District 39 (Bergen)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Permits publication of legal notices by governments and individuals on official government website instead of newspaper.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As reported by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on July 19, 2010, with amendments.

  


An Act concerning electronic publication of certain legal notices, supplementing Title 35 of the Revised Statutes 1and amending P.L.1975, c.231 and P.L.2002, c.911.

 

     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), 1portable document format (PDF)1 or an equivalent language format 1or image format1, 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 1[a] an electronic or paper based1 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 notarized1.  The government agency shall provide a copy of the certification or affidavit free of charge upon request1; 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.    (New section) A local government agency 1, including any entity defined as a contracting unit pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1971, c.198 (C.40A:11-2) or a district pursuant to N.J.S:18A:18A-2,1 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.     1(1)  The local government agency annually adopts a resolution or an ordinance, as appropriate, authorizing the publication of legal notices via the Internet and publishes a legal advertisement following the adoption of the resolution or ordinance, which includes the full text of the resolution or ordinance authorizing Internet publication, in one or more official newspaper 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)   The 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

     b.1 Dial up access to the Internet is available without telephone toll charges generally throughout the jurisdiction of the local government agency; and

     1[b.] c.1     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

     1[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.] d.1  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

     1[f.] e.1      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).

     1f.  Any local government agency which elects to electronically publish legal notices on a notice website must publish, in addition to legal notices as defined by section 3 of P.L.    , c.   (C.    ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), notice of any public meeting, the minutes of any meeting of the governing body, the full text of any proposed ordinance or resolution to be considered by the governing body, the municipal code, all public contracts for goods or services, and a summary of the results of any litigation involving the local government agency, provided that the posting of the litigation information does not violate any agreed to or court ordered confidentiality provisions.1

 

     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).

 

     18.   Section 3 of P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-8) is amended to read as follows:

     As used in this act:

     a.     “Public body” means a commission, authority, board, council, committee or any other group of two or more persons organized under the laws of this State, and collectively empowered as a voting body to perform a public governmental function affecting the rights, duties, obligations, privileges, benefits, or other legal relations of any person, or collectively authorized to spend public funds including the Legislature, but does not mean or include the judicial branch of the government, any grand or petit jury, any parole board or any agency or body acting in a parole capacity, the State Commission of Investigation, the Apportionment Commission established under Article IV, Section III, of the Constitution, or any political party committee organized under Title 19 of the Revised Statutes.

     b.    “Meeting” means and includes any gathering whether corporeal or by means of communication equipment, which is attended by, or open to, all of the members of a public body, held with the intent, on the part of the members of the body present, to discuss or act as a unit upon the specific public business  of that body.  Meeting does not mean or include any such gathering (1) attended  by less than an effective majority of the members of a public body, or (2)  attended by or open to all the members of three or more similar public bodies  at a convention or similar gathering.

     c.     “Public business” means and includes all matters which relate in any way, directly or indirectly, to the performance of the public body's functions or the conduct of its business.

     d.    “Adequate notice”  means written advance notice of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken and which shall be (1) prominently posted in at least one public place reserved for such or similar announcements, (2) mailed, telephoned, telegrammed, or hand delivered to at least two newspapers which newspapers shall be designated by the public body to  receive such notices because they have the greatest likelihood of informing the  public within the area of jurisdiction of the public body of such meetings, one  of which shall be the official newspaper, where any such has been designated by  the public body or if the public body has failed to so designate, where any has  been designated by the governing body of the political subdivision whose geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of the public body, however, a public body may satisfy this requirement by posting the required information on the Internet pursuant to the provisions of sections 4 and 6 of P.L.    , c.   (C.     ) and (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), and (3) filed with the clerk of the municipality when the public body's geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of a single municipality, with the clerk of the county when the public body's geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of a single county, and with the Secretary of State if the public body has  Statewide jurisdiction.  For any other public body the filing shall be with the clerk or chief administrative officer of such other public body and each municipal or county clerk of each municipality or county encompassed within the jurisdiction of such public body.  Where annual notice or revisions thereof in compliance with section 13 of [this act] P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-18) set forth the location of any meeting, no further notice shall be required for such meeting.1

(cf: P.L.1981, c.176, s.2)

 

     19.   Section 4 of P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-9) is amended to read as follows:

     4.    a.  Except as provided by subsection b. of this section, or for any meeting  limited only to consideration of items listed in [section 7. b.] subsection b. of section 7 of P.L.1975, c. 231 (C.10:4-12) no public body  shall hold a meeting unless adequate notice thereof has been provided to the public.

     b.    Upon the affirmative vote of three quarters of the members present a public body may hold a meeting notwithstanding the failure to provide adequate notice if:

     (1)   such meeting is required in order to deal with matters of such urgency and importance that a delay for the purpose of providing adequate notice would be likely to result in substantial harm to the public interest;  and

     (2)   the meeting is limited to discussion of and acting with respect to such  matters of urgency and importance;  and

     (3)   notice of such meeting is provided as soon as possible following the calling of such meeting by posting written notice of the same in the public place described in [section 3. d. above] subsection d. of section 3 of P.L.1975, c. 231(C.10:4-8), and also by notifying the two newspapers described in [section 3. d.] subsection d. of section 3 of P.L.1975, c. 231(C.10:4-8) by telephone, telegram, or by delivering a written notice of same to such newspapers, or by posting the notice on the notice website maintained by the public body;  and

     (4)   either (a) the public body could not reasonably have foreseen the need for such meeting at a time when adequate notice could have been provided;  or (b) although the public body could reasonably have foreseen the need for such meeting at a time when adequate notice could have been provided, it nevertheless failed to do so.1

(cf: P.L.1975, c.231, s.4)

 

     110.  Section 1 of P.L.2002, c.91 (C.10:4-9.1) is amended to read as follows:

     1.    In addition to the notice requirements of the “Open Public Meetings Act,” P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6 et seq.), a public body may provide electronic notice of any meeting of the public body through the Internet, provided the public body has complied with the provisions of P.L.   , c.   (C.      et al.) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

     As used in this section, “electronic notice” means advance notice available to the public via [electronic transmission of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting] an electronic publication as defined by section 3 of P.L.    , c.    (C.     ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken at such meeting.

     As used in this section, “Internet” means the international computer network of both federal and non-federal interoperable packet switched data networks.1

(cf: P.L.2002, c.91, s.1)

 

     1[8.] 11.1   (New section) Within 6 months of the enactment of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the 1Chief Technology Officer of the Office of Information Technology, in consultation with the1 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.

 

     1[9.] 12.1   (New section) This act shall take effect on the first day of the seventh month next following enactment, however, section 1[8] 111 of this act shall take effect immediately.