BRIEF: Bill would let small papers be official journals

The former Daily Advertiser offices in Lafayette Billy Hathorn

In a move to offer a helping hand to struggling local newspapers, the Louisiana House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon unanimously approved a bill that changes the rules by which a newspaper can qualify as an official journal for legal notices and proclamations.

The bill, HB977 by Rep. Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, removes the requirement that an official journal be published at least six times a week, changing it to at least once a week. But removed from the original bill was a clause that would have allowed the commissioner of administration to designate a website, including the state’s own website, as the state’s official journal.

Carlson explained to House members Tuesday that he has agreed to changes in the bill to satisfy concerns of the Louisiana Press Association.

State and local government official notices have traditionally been an important source of revenue for newspapers, and in recent years have become more critical as newspaper advertising revenue has migrated to newer technologies.

The bill also removes the requirement that the official state journal be located in Baton Rouge.

As for rural parishes, Carlson told The Current the bill “simply expands the number of newspapers that qualify. Most areas have zero newspapers or one that qualifies. I’ve been working with the press association. They are comfortable with it, and I’m satisfied it meets the goals I wanted. It increases competition, improves access to newspapers and lowers costs.”

Carlson said the bill was his own idea, based on his own experience. He said he heard of a struggling newspaper in an area of north Louisiana that had no newspapers that qualified to publish official notices under existing law.

Besides permitting weekly newspapers to qualify as a local journal, the bill lowers the length of the required age of a qualifying newspaper from five years to two. However, to qualify as an official journal, the weekly would have to be located in a parish with less than 200,000 population, or less than 100,000 and not located adjacent to a parish with 200,000 or more population, according to the most recent federal census. 

Carlson represents District 43, which includes much of western Lafayette.  He was elected last fall, succeeding the term-limited Stuart Bishop.