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Since we started the campaign to pass the Civic Info Bill a year ago, residents across New Jersey have spoken out forcefully about the need to revive and strengthen local journalism.

They’ve signed petitions. They’ve lobbied lawmakers. They’ve testified before budget committees.

And on May 23, Free Press Action Fund members and allies visited lawmakers across the Garden State in support of this crucial legislation (S2317/A3628).

It was a chance for residents to visit their state lawmakers at their in-district offices, and to demonstrate their support for the Civic Info Consortium.

The Civic Info Bill would establish this nonprofit, which would fund local news-and-information projects that would keep residents informed about what’s happening in their communities.

New Jerseyans speak out

High-profile lawmakers, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, received visits from their constituents in support of the bill.

As I waited to hear back from Free Press Action Fund volunteers and allies, it was moving to see how people took time out of their day to show lawmakers how much they care about the disappearance of local news in their communities.

“My group felt lucky to meet with the senior staff of Senate President Sweeney,” said Jeanne Jordan from Action Together New Jersey. “They listened attentively to our ideas for the Civic Information Consortium, taking notes and absorbing all the aspects of the bill we were highlighting.”

Jordan took a delegation of Sweeney’s constituents who care about local news as much she does all the way to Trenton to visit his staff at the statehouse. They understand that this is once-in-a-lifetime chance to establish a fund that could be a model for the rest of the country.

No other state has established something like this.

Residents around the state who are determined to ensure that their communities have a clear voice have driven this initiative.

“The Day of Action facilitated our ability as constituents to bring to lawmakers the important message about the need for better local news and information in New Jersey,“ said Keith Shaw, who visited Assemblyman Herb Conaway’s office. “It also helped lawmakers and their staff better understand what we are trying to accomplish with this bill. Through this process, I feel like I’ve been able to build a better relationship with the staff of my state representative.”

What’s remarkable isn’t just the support for the bill, but that people in communities across New Jersey are taking concrete steps to shape the future of journalism in their communities.

Through building relationships and listening to people’s concerns about how local news has dried up across the state, we’ve seen that residents will show up to ensure their communities are engaged and informed.

Time is running out

As it stands we have several weeks left to pass the Civic Info Bill. The main objective is to have the bill included into the FY2019 budget, which the governor and legislature need to finalize by June 30.

We have a limited amount of time left to make a strong impact on lawmakers around the state. All the phone calls, emails, petitions and legislative visits have gotten us this far, so we can’t stop now.

Moving forward, we have to urge state lawmakers to bring the bill to a hearing in the Higher Education Committees. If we’re going to succeed in passing this measure, we must seize on all the opportunities we have to engage our lawmakers.

On June 11, Free Press Action Fund will host a Statehouse Lobby Day to continue to amplify the voices of constituents in support of the Civic Info Bill.

We’ll huddle up in the morning, then spend the day letting lawmakers know about the real-life impact of news and information — why local news matters, how media consolidation has harmed our communities, and why we need the legislature to pass the Civic Info Bill and invest in our state’s future.

Join us at the statehouse and speak out for this important legislation.

We’ve gotten this far because of the hard work and dedication from residents who understand that local news is the lifeblood of any community. Let’s move this bill to the finish line.

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