Today at 10 a.m., an important vote is set to take place at the Senate Local Government Committee hearing at the Indiana General Assembly on House Bill 1212. The committee is considering moving this bill to the floor to eliminate the requirement that sheriff’s sale legal notices — and potentially other types of legal notices — no longer would have to be printed in your local newspaper.
As the publisher of 15 print newspapers here at KPC Media Group — both dailies and weeklies — we know well that many of our readers depend on this information. They do NOT regularly go online to read news or legals. Many do not have high-speed internet service in their homes — particularly in some of our beautiful rural areas, or cannot afford their monthly internet bills.
They open their newspapers in the morning over coffee and read the day’s legal notices.
Here in Northeast Indiana, we’re fortunate to be served by two state senators — Sen. Susan Glick of LaGrange and Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn — who listen to their constituents and are responsive to the needs of their communities. We urge you to call or email them today, and ask them to vote “No” on HB 1212.
What’s in a sheriff’s sale legal notice? Included are the printing of homes or properties which are being foreclosed on, or being put up for sale due to unpaid taxes.
The notice of a sheriff’s sale in a local newspaper is often the last line of defense for the elderly, disabled, uneducated or those out of the country, like members of the Armed Forces, who are dependent upon others to pay their bills, and can have their home or property put into foreclosure without their knowledge.
Print notices increase bidder pool
For those who are properly going through foreclosure, legal notices also increase the pool of potential bidders behind the banks and insiders (real estate investors and professional house-flippers) to the whole community, which increases the chance for a higher bid, and can eliminate more of the debt owed. If legal notices are not printed in local newspapers, they will be seen only by that “insider group” that flips properties, and routinely understands where to find legal notices online.
That’s not something that most of us do.
Publication of a mortgage foreclosure can also alert our local business owners to be wary about their current relationship with someone facing a sheriff’s sale. Will that person be able to complete a contract with the business or are they a higher risk for the business owner? It’s important information for our business community that we urge you to consider.
The number of foreclosures taking place in our communities is also an indicator of the fiscal health of the community. We should all remember that the banks’ junk mortgage bonds precipitated the Great Recession and the tidal wave of mortgage foreclosures we endured as a country.
And, HB 1212 shifts the advertising cost for the legal advertisement from a winning bidder to taxpayers. We don’t believe that those able to scoop up troubled properties should be given this advantage, and we have to ask: What is the true intent of HB 1212?
HB 1212 not only replaces the advertisement from print to online only, but adds the requirement that the sheriff maintains a website that posts all sheriff’s sale notices; develops a system to provide proof of the posting for a period of time without any alteration or gap; and maintains an archiving of the notices for three years. This diverts manpower from law enforcement to the support of banks foreclosing homes.
Government websites reduce readership
In our opinion, government websites do not add, but subtract from the public’s awareness of notices. In addition to the print version, newspapers across Indiana already post public notice advertising on their websites, and we use a statewide website that aggregates notices from the entire state at www.indianapublicnotices.com. Trading that for a posting on local government website reduces the number that will see any notice. An American Opinion Research survey conducted in 2017 found that Hoosiers would be 60 percent less likely to read notices on government websites compared to publication in their local newspaper.
And, legal notices have been a staple of local newspapers for decades! The public wants and expects to find public notices in their local newspaper, whether delivered by subscription or purchased at a store. Hoosiers have repeatedly said they want government to publish the notices in their newspaper, based on surveys by the Hoosier State Press Association (HSPA). Recently, 63 percent supported publication of a legal notice in a newspaper even when told the publication could cost a government agency several thousands of dollars in a year. For example, responding to an Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) proposal to eliminate the publication of notices for an Air Quality Permit (permission to pollute sought by businesses), IDEM received 607 public comments — 603 opposed the idea while four were supportive.
And, there is the critical issue of transparency. We believe that an independent party is needed to ensure notices are properly published. Relying upon the government agency to post notices that will bring them under greater scrutiny by taxpaying voters is like asking the fox to guard the hen house. Through 26 legislative sessions, HSPA has never seen any attempt to curtail or eliminate public notices originate with any organization representing average citizens. It always starts with government bureaucrats and officials responsible for the publication or that will be the subject of the notice or regulated special interests required to give the public notice of their intentions to act (pollute the air, obtain a zoning variance to build a confined feeding operation, build a new power plant, for example). Their motivation either lies in avoiding the work involved to make sure the notice is published properly or in making notice less effective. As expressed by one Lake County school superintendent, “The only thing that happens when we run a public notice is people come to our meetings and give us crap for what we’re doing,” reports the HSPA.
At our core, newspapers make public notices accessible (3 million adult Hoosiers read a newspaper at least once a week); they’re verifiable (a printed newspaper cannot be hacked); and newspapers are archivable (local libraries maintain microfilm copies of local newspapers as the first draft of Hoosiers’ history).
Yes, all newspapers are also dependent on the financial revenue we receive from publishing legal notices. To not put this out there with you, our readers, would be less than honest. The loss of legal advertising would be significant for our company, and all newspapers across Indiana.
Newspapers play valuable role
So, we ask you to consider that before we let legislators kill off newspapers, ask yourself who will fill the watchdog role needed in a democracy? A few years ago, it was noted that newspapers created 85 percent of the news found on the Internet. Who’s standing in line to cover city council, county commissioners, school boards and the local courts? KPC is proud to serve you every day in this critical responsibility that protects our democracy.
Newspapers aren’t asking for a subsidy — public notice advertising involves a payment for a service. When it comes to notices from state and local government, that payment doesn’t even match the going rate for general advertising because the General Assembly established by law in 1927 a maximum rate that can be charged — a rate that dramatically discounts the cost of publishing a public notice advertisement for the government.
Newspapers are asking that decision-makers look at the big picture. And, we’re asking you to take a few minutes to call Sen. Susan Glick and Sen. Dennis Kruse to thank them for their public service, and ask them to consider your view on the importance of legal notices printed in your local newspaper.
The time to speak is now — before today’s hearing — as well as over the next week if the bill moves to the Senate floor.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Lou Phelps, Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.