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December 18, 2016

Christie doubles down on push for legal notices bill; critics call effort 'revenge'

Debate over pending legislation that would lift the requirement in New Jersey to publish legal notices in newspapers has both sides digging in their heels.

Last week, the state legislature advanced two companion bills, S2855 in the Senate and A4429 in the Assembly, that are designed to remove stipulations that force governments, businesses and individuals to pay for legal advertisements in print. This would allow those notices to be posted online to notify the public.

Gov. Chris Christie called the bills "commonsense" legislation in an op-ed on Medium to urge for the passing of the bills.

Christie argues that governments could save more than $80 million annually without harming transparency and public trust. Furthermore, it would allow funding to be diverted to public schools and other municipal services. Christie said posting notices in newspapers no longer makes sense since 81 percent of adults get their news from online sources on mobile devices, according to the Pew Research Center.

Christie, who has had a contentious relationship with the press during his tenure, claimed the op-ed was refused publication in a newspaper, "I was therefore left with no choice but to disseminate this opinion myself, which will no doubt be read by a vast majority of the population online."

Meanwhile, critics question the true intentions of the bill.

The Star-Ledger, the largest newspaper in the state, acknowledged the bill would likely force layoffs and some outlets out of business. However, the paper's editorial board maintains the bill's purpose "is to weaken the press, to defang the watchdogs who expose [politicians] bad behavior."

The New Jersey Press Association agreed, saying Christie overestimates the potential savings because governments would need to add security features to its websites and hire additional workers to handle the responsibilities.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex County), who announced he is running for governor next year, accused Christie of pushing a "revenge bill" to punish the press for covering the Bridgegate scandal.

"This is nothing more than a politically-motivated crackdown on the press in New Jersey," Wisniewski said.

The bills were approved in committee on Thursday and will now enter both chambers of the legislature.