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Keeping the books open in West Virginia

Making it more difficult for people to learn about potentially serious problems — such as losing one’s home — ought to be the very last thing on the minds of West Virginia legislators. Yet every year, some in Charleston introduce legislation that would effectively do just that.

Consider Senate Bill 642 and House Bill 2715, both of which would reduce the requirements for legal advertisements. That would mean that you, your family and your friends would have fewer opportunities to learn of serious issues such as past-due property taxes, which eventually could lead to your home being sold at auction.

Then there’s also Senate Bill 651, which would make it optional for county school systems to place their annual operating budget in your daily newspaper.

That means fewer eyes would get to see what, in many counties, is the largest single governmental budget.

At a time when trust in government remains low, it makes no sense to limit access to information.

Critics will argue that the information will be online, and easily accessible. But consider these facts:

¯ West Virginia has poor internet service — the state ranks 48th in the nation for broadband.

¯ Cost concerns — West Virginia has the second poorest population in the nation, meaning many households can’t afford the best service, computers and devices.

¯ Limited access — According to state statistics, as many as 789,514 West Virginians, or 44% of the population, either don’t subscribe to an internet service provider or don’t have access to quality internet.

Legal advertisements in newspapers, as they exist today, make it easy for friends and family members to see the names of those they know.

They also make it easy for taxpayers to stay informed as to where and how their tax dollars are being spent.

That’s transparency in government.

The goal of public notices is to protect and inform state residents. The current system works. We urge lawmakers to reject any attempts to change the public notice requirements in West Virginia.

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