Sen. Trudy Wade takes aim at newspapers with two costly bills

This editorial appeared in The News and Observer

State Sen. Trudy Wade, a Guilford County Republican, is mad at newspapers. She’s been criticized in the press for bad bills and bad advocacy. Her missteps include moves to cut environmental regulations and making it easier for voters to kill special tax districts that aid downtown redevelopment. She also successfully sponsored a bill imposing new voting districts for Greensboro City Council elections. The new lines likely would increased Republican influence on the council, but a federal judge ruled the scheme unconstitutional.

Wade is now sponsoring a bill, passed by the Senate, to allow municipalities to publish legal notices on their own websites. That means local governments wouldn’t be required to pay to put legal ads in newspapers. Instead, they would be in charge of keeping track of their own compliance with right-to-know laws. Some, perhaps most, might do so diligently – but others might miss notices about estates, government contracts, foreclosures or zoning cases.

Wade also wants to require that newspapers classify their part-time carriers – most of whom have other jobs – as employees rather than independent contractors. To support her bill, she cites a McClatchy series on companies that classified workers as contractors instead of counting them as full-time employees. But that series focused on instances where workers who did the tasks of full-time employees were exploited, not those who just worked a handful of hours. Wade knows that both the legal notices change and the proposed rule on carriers could have serious financial consequences for newspapers.

And imposing that financial pain, not creating good law, is her real objective. Wade is welcome to be angry at her critics, but she’s not welcome to use the General Assembly to take revenge. Once lawmakers start to use their positions to take a pound of flesh from their critics, there will be no end to it. We must hope Wade’s colleagues show more sound judgment.