As the 170th Nebraska Legislature came to a close last month, senators approved a bill that's expected to provide more transparency for taxpayers.
LB 644, which was introduced by District 16 Sen. Ben Hansen who represents Washington County, provides information, removes barriers and encourages Nebraskans to be engaged in the decision-making process of increased revenue collected from property taxes.
Political subdivisions will be required to justify the reasons for increased taxes by way of a postcard in the mail. An explanation of proposed property tax increases, along with details of public meetings, will be sent to taxpayers in order to give Nebraskans an opportunity to speak and have their voice heard. With bi-partisan support, the passage of LB 644 puts a check on government spending and promotes the power of the citizen to be returned.
When this bill was initially introduced it did not include a stipulation that the notices for these public meetings should also be published in a newspaper.
In fact, Hansen in his opening comments said that no newspaper notice was needed. He also said newspapers were “expensive” and that “nobody reads newspapers anymore anyway.” When contacted by the Enterprise, Hansen explained that his remarks were because he didn't want to force counties to publish a hearing notice in a newspaper because of cost and time.
This, of course, is false. People do still read newspapers and newspapers are the absolute best place for public notices to be published.
We want to commend Senator Hansen for being open minded and listening to us and the Nebraska Press Association, and allowing an amendment to be added to his bill to include a requirement that hearing notices must be published in the newspaper four days prior to the hearing.
Public notices, often referred to as “legals” in the newspaper world, are part of the “three-legged stool of government accountability” that also includes public meetings and public records. Without any of these, there is no transparency.
Transparency in government is important and the more people can be informed the better. This bill and the addition of the public notices requirement will hopefully do that.