HSPA pushing for amendments to public notice bills


HSPA is attempting to amend two bills as they move forward in the Indiana General Assembly.

Both are close to being acceptable changes to current law, but neither bill’s author would accept HSPA’s suggested amendment, said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the association.

Tax sale notices

S.B. 355, authored by Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Crown Point,  concerns the publication of properties that will be made available for public purchase under the commissioner’s auction of tax sale certificates.

This is where properties land if they fail to be sold under the county treasurer’s tax sale.

Under the tax sale, a buyer must be willing to pay the delinquent taxes on the property as a minimum bid.

If the property goes to the commissioners sale, the auction price can start as low as $500, according to Niemeyer – a bargain compared to properties whose tax liability has grown over the years.

Niemeyer reached out to HSPA last session to address the problem in Lake County of unsellable properties that keep recycling onto the treasurer’s list.

(If a property isn’t sold in either the tax sale or commissioners’ sale in the same year, another year’s delinquent taxes are added to the property, and it goes back to the treasurer for next year’s tax sale.)

The property list, which is published in a public notice, has grown to more than 100 pages in Lake County for both the tax sale and commissioners’ sale.

The problem appears to be unique to Lake County. Key discussed the issue with officials in Marion County – the state’s most populated county – and was told by Marion County Treasurer Claudia Fuentes that the published notice isn’t a problem.

HSPA worked with Niemeyer last session to give county treasurers the option to delete from the publication any repeat sale properties as long as a list of those properties are available to the public upon request.

The change will save Lake County thousands in publication costs.

But Niemeyer neglected to address the same concern with the commissioners’ sale last session, so he reached out again to HSPA.

Key said HSPA was willing to put the same language into play for the commissioners’ sale, but Niemeyer rejected the idea.

Niemeyer’s bill eliminates the need to publish any properties to be sold at the commissioners’ sale under the logic that it was already listed during the treasurer’s sale.

Key unsuccessfully pointed out that months elapse between the two sales, and since the commissioners’ sale gives the public a chance to snap up properties at a cheaper price than the treasurer’s sale, the properties available should be published at least once.

“We’re talking about notice to the public, not insiders who know how the process works, so the one publication should be a reasonable requirement,” Key said. “Sen. Niemeyer would still accomplish his goal of saving Lake County thousands of dollars in publication costs for both the treasurer and commissioners’ sales.

“It’s frustrating when we can’t reach agreement on publishing the property once for each sale,” Key said. “Lake County either way will eliminate the year-after-year publication of thousands of properties that have continually bounced from one sale to the other.”

Eligibility for notices

The second public notice advertising bill of concern is from Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.

Torr is trying to address an unusual publication situation in his city. His solution, though, will change eligibility rules for carrying public notice advertising across the entire state – making an exception for free mailed publications in some situations.

Key said Torr worked with HSPA last year on the language now contained in H.B. 1017, but both last year and this, Torr rejected one provision sought by HSPA.

The amendment sought would tie the free publication to a single geographical location, which matches the law for paid-circulation newspapers.

Key said that would prevent Torr’s bill from creating an unfair advantage for free publications competing across the state with paid-circulation newspapers.

Last year, Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, championed HSPA’s concern. This forced the addition of language sought by HSPA in a conference committee report on S.E.A. 369, where Torr’s bill landed as the session was drawing to a close.

S.E.A. 369 was easily approved by both the House and Senate and would have become law, except that Gov. Mike Pence vetoed it – objecting to unrelated language also added to the bill concerning the imposition of a search fee for voluminous requests under the Access to Public Records Act.

This year, with Torr rejecting the request for an amendment, HSPA again will turn to the Senate to seek a fix.

Key hopes Buck will continue to be an ally. The sponsor for H.B. 1017 will be Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, whom HSPA will also contact.