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Legal organ battle rages in state legislature

ATLANTA - A House-passed bill that would require local governments to post online notices of major purchases but not require legal ads in local newspapers has stalled in a Senate committee. Local government lobbyists and publishers hope it will die there.

Opposition to House Bill 833 mounted this week as local government officials stated their dislike for a requirement that they notify the public of equipment purchases of $40,000 or higher. Under current law, the reporting threshold is $100,000.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, drew criticism from newspaper publishers across the state last month because an amendment removed the requirement for newspaper ads. Publishers say taxpayers will have a harder time keeping tabs on their government officials without the ads.

If passed, the bill would require that purchase notices be posted free of charge on the state's purchasing registry web site while the ads would become optional.

That could pose problems, according to Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association. To purchase equipment like electric transformers or garbage trucks, cities are only bound by their internal procedures about posting notices or requests for bids, said Ms. Henderson.

"It may not cost anything to post it to the state procurement site, but you still have to have employees going through the bids," she said. "They are going to get bids from folks who are not qualified vendors if they advertise on the state's web site."

The original version of the bill allowed free posting on the state's web site but still required the newspaper ads.

In that case, taxpayers would have to bear the added cost of the new equipment ads. In Athens, a city of 100,000, roughly 170 purchases each year would trigger the need for a $60 ad, according to John Culpepper, city finance director, for a total of $10,200.

An amendment, added just before the full House voted unanimously for the measure, removed the ad requirement. Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, said he introduced the amendment at the request of city officials from his home who objected to the expense.

In protest of Fleming's amendment, publishers have called lawmakers and written editorials about the difficulty taxpayers will have in learning of major purchases without the ads.

Rep. Lunsford and Democrats in the Senate have pledged to restore the newspaper-ad requirement. HB 833 is awaiting action in the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee where it hasn't been scheduled for a hearing or vote.

Web posted on Thursday, March 9, 2006

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