SECTION 1. Chapter 66 of the General Laws is amended by adding Paragraphs 2 through 6 of this act as a new Section 6A.
SECTION 2. This act shall be known and may be cited as the "Electronic Publication of Legal Notices Act."
SECTION 3. For the purposes of this act:
“Electronic publication” or "electronically publish" means the public advertisement of a legal notice in hypertext markup language format (html), portable document format (PDF) or an equivalent language format or image format, on an official government Internet website.
“Government agency” or “agency” means any public entity under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts required to publish legal notices.
“Legal notice” or “notice” means any matter of a government agency or an individual that, pursuant to law, rule or regulation is required to be officially advertised in a newspaper.
“Notice website” means an Internet website that is maintained by a government agency, or by a third party under contract with the agency, that contains links to the legal notices electronically published by the agency.
“Official Internet website” or “official website” means the Internet location designated by a government agency as its primary source of information about the agency on the Internet.
SECTION 4. Whenever a government agency or an individual is required by law to publish a legal notice in a “newspaper” or “newspaper of general circulation”, the government agency or individual may cause the required notice to be published on an official government notice website instead of a newspaper, provided all of the following requirements are met:
a. The site is accessible to the public over the Internet at least ninety percent (90%) of the time, twenty-four (24) hours per day, every day of a year; and
b. The government entity’s official Internet web site shall prominently display a link to the notice web site, which shall be an index web page containing a list of all current legal notices of the government entity, with links to the full text of those notices, not just to summaries of those notices. The index web page shall also contain a search function and other features that improve public accessibility to legal notices; and
c. The government agency's official Internet website, the notice webpage containing links to the legal notices, and the webpages containing the actual legal notices, shall be designed to comply with the accessibility standards of section 508 of the "Rehabilitation Act of 1973," as amended (29 U.S.C. s.794d); and
d. The government agency's official Internet website containing the notice website shall be registered with the Information Technology Division of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, for posting on the Commonwealth’s Internet website that lists Internet sites of agencies; and
e. Each webpage on the official website with a link to the notice website or index webpage, as well as the notice website itself, shall contain an e-mail link to submit a complaint to the government agency if access to any legal notice fails. The government agency shall review all complaints reported pursuant to this subsection to determine the cause of any access problem and shall document the findings and any action taken to resolve it. The government agency shall keep and make available for public inspection all records of complaints and service accessibility failures reported pursuant to this subsection.
f. Whenever an individual is unable to access an electronic publication of a government notice, the government agency shall provide a copy of the notice to the individual free of charge.
g. Notices shall remain available on the notice website at least until the last posting date required by law has expired or until the event described in a notice has taken place, whichever is later.
h. The government agency shall create, or have provided by the notice website contractor, and keep on file an electronic or paper based certification or affidavit of posting required for each legal notice in the same manner as is done for printed notices. The affidavit or certification shall state that the notice was posted from the initial date through either the last posting date required by law or the date when the event described in a notice takes place, whichever occurs later, except that a certification shall not be required to be notarized. The government agency shall provide a copy of the certification or affidavit free of charge upon request; and
i. The government agency shall designate one or more contact persons to handle the intake and processing of legal notices requested to be published by an individual, concerning the Internet publication of legal notices required to be published by an individual.
j. The government agency shall designate an official to be responsible for electronic publications and shall post that official's name and contact information on the notice website.
SECTION 5. Proof of publication of an electronically published legal notice for the purpose of complying with public notice requirements shall be satisfied and deemed conclusive upon the provision of the certification or affidavit described in subsection 4(h) by the official responsible for the electronic publication, stating that the notice was posted from the initial date until the last posting date required by law.
SECTION 6. A local government agency may elect to electronically publish legal notices on a notice website in accordance with section 4 provided:
a. The local government agency annually adopts a resolution or an ordinance, as appropriate, authorizing the publication of legal notices via the Internet and publishes a legal advertisement following the adoption of the resolution or ordinance, which includes the full text of the resolution or ordinance authorizing Internet publication, in one or more official newspaper having the highest circulation within the jurisdiction of the local government agency, announcing that legal notices are posted on the agency’s notice website, in the following form:
“Internet Posting of Public Notices: (name of local government agency)
The (name of agency) announces that public notices on the following matters are posted on the (name of agency) public notice website: http://www._______________________ (substitute Internet address protocol in common usage if different);”
b. The legal advertisement required under paragraph (1) of this subsection shall close with the following:
(1) Free public access to the Internet is available within the (insert name of county, municipality or service or jurisdictional area of the local government agency) at (list all known locations). If someone is unable to access the Internet, individual copies of notices can be obtained by calling (insert appropriate agency phone number); and
(2) Dial up access to the Internet is available without telephone toll charges generally throughout the jurisdiction of the local government agency; and regular public Internet access is available without charge within the jurisdiction of the local government agency through the public library or at some other location; and
(3) The local government agency adopts a resolution at the annual meeting at which the official newspaper is designated, if applicable, to provide for electronic publication of legal notices on a notice website; and
(4) the local government agency publishes a legal advertisement once a week in one or more official newspapers having the highest circulation within the jurisdiction of the local government agency, announcing that legal notices are posted on the agency’s notice website, in the following form:
“Internet Posting of Public Notices: (name of local government agency)
“The (name of agency) announces that public notices on the following matters are posted on the (name of agency) public notice website: http://www._______________________ (substitute Internet address protocol in common usage if different);”
c. All local government notices electronically published are available in printed form in the office of the clerk; and when a municipality does not have an official website, the municipal legal notices shall be published on the existing official website of the county in which the municipality is located.
d. Any local government agency which elects to electronically publish legal notices on a notice website must publish, notice of any public meeting, the minutes of any meeting of the governing body, the full text of any proposed ordinance or resolution to be considered by the governing body, the municipal code, all public contracts for goods or services, and a summary of the results of any litigation involving the local government agency, provided that the posting of the litigation information does not violate any agreed to or court ordered confidentiality provisions.
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