Two public notice advertising bills occupied HSPA’s attention during the 2016 General Assembly session – H.B. 1017 and S.B. 355.

Public notice advertising in free publications

H.B. 1017 will make certain mailed free-circulation publications eligible to carry public notice advertising.

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, authored it to benefit the free Current publication, headquartered in Carmel.

HSPA was unsuccessful in an attempt to amend Torr’s bill to limit the eligibility to the location of the free publication office.

Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, as acting chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, offered the amendment on behalf of Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, during H.B. 1017’s hearing.

Head was absent – presenting a bill in another committee hearing. Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, was the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

The amendment failed with a 4-4 vote.

Voting for the amendment were Smith and Sens. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown; Jim Buck, R-Kokomo; and Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis.

Voting against it were Sens. Erin Houchin, R-Salem; Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg; John Broden, D-South Bend; and Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.

After H.B. 1017 emerged from the Senate committee, it was passed by the Senate 46-4. Torr filed a concurrence on the Senate bill. The House approved it 88-6.

Based on information publishers provided to HSPA, The Current and The Bristol Bugle will become eligible to carry public notices in Hamilton and Elkhart counties, respectively, July 1, 2016.

Any new free and mailed publications wanting to run public notices would have to be in operation for three years before becoming eligible.

Without the amendment, the Current and Bugle can approach local government units that don’t include a town or city with a paid-circulation newspaper within their boundary to carry public notice advertisements.

They are not eligible to carry county public notice advertisements.

Torr crafted the legislation so that county and local governments would have no reason to oppose the bill. It doesn’t change their costs to publish public notices, said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

“Local government representatives talk a good game on transparency as long as it doesn’t cost them $1 more than they are required to spend on public notice advertising,” Key said.

Publication of properties for sale

S.B. 355 concerns the publication of properties eligible for a commissioners’ sale of tax certificates.

It was authored by Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, and sponsored by Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville. Both live in Lake County.

HSPA worked with the two legislators last session on a similar Lake County issue – the treasurer’s notice of tax sale and its accompanying list of eligible properties for sale.

Due to some economic and bureaucratic factors in Lake County, Key said the treasurer’s tax sale list had grown to a crazy length – taking up more than 100 pages in The Times (Munster) and Post-Tribune (Crown Point).

The problem is that more than 10,000 properties are unsaleable – the tax liability being greater than the value of the property. The publication was costing Lake County several hundred thousand dollars a year.

Niemeyer and Slager worked last year with HSPA to pass legislation allowing the county auditor an option to eliminate from publication properties that previously had been published in an earlier tax sale.

What wasn’t addressed last year was the commissioners’ sale.

Properties not sold at tax sale are eligible for sale by the county commissioners. At that point, purchasers don’t have to cover the tax liability, only the minimum price set by the county – $500 in Lake County.

Unfortunately, thousands of properties aren’t sold even at that minimum price.

If not purchased in the commissioners’ sale, an additional year’s worth of taxes is added to the property’s liability and it goes back on the list for the next treasurer’s tax sale.

HSPA and the two Lake County legislators didn’t take this into account last year, so Niemeyer filed S.B. 355 this session.

HSPA and Niemeyer butted heads though because Niemeyer didn’t want to require any property list publication for the county sale, mistakenly believing the sale price to be identical in both sales and feeling the second publication was unnecessary.

The bill moved through the Senate and to the House, where it was assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, agreed to file an amendment requiring one publication of a property when it first appeared eligible for the commissioners’ sale and support was building within the committee.

Reps. Steve Davisson, R-Salem; Ed Clere, R-New Albany; Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis; Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis; and Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville; were supportive of HSPA’s effort.

Niemeyer and Slager agreed to make the HSPA-requested change. The bill then sailed through the House 95-0 and a Senate concurrence 48-1.

Auditors now have the option with either sale to remove from the publication list repeat properties as long as they note that a complete list can be obtained from the county.

HSPA has not heard of any other counties interested in this option.

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