Hoosier State Press Association will propose a bill to modernize the public notice statute (I.C. 5-3-1) to reflect technological changes in how Hoosiers obtain news of their communities.
The bill addresses concerns raised about the cost of publication of public notices, sets a date certain when notice requirements move from a print to digital requirement, will incorporate a statewide aggregated public notice website into the law, require a sharing of public notices with the Indiana Supreme Court’s MyCase platform to aid lawyers and parties, and maintain the crucial elements of effective public notice: accessibility, verification, archivability, and independent source of distribution to insure the integrity of due process and state and local government transparency.
HSPA is in the process of talking to legislative leaders about the proposal with the hope of garnering support for its passage.
Following are specific items addressed by the HSPA draft that Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany) has requested Legislative Services Agency create.
Immediate savings for printing of public notices for state and local government units:
Any public notice that is required to be published more than once will only be charged at the rate of one publication. This will save those units either 33% or 50% the current cost for publishing notices twice or three times.
For attorneys or parties required to publish notices of four common court notices (a sheriff’s sale/mortgage foreclosure, opening of an estate, change of name petition, notice of lawsuit or summons) the cost will be capped. Currently, newspapers may charge market rates for these notices.
Pauper plaintiffs who need to publish a notice will be given the same state-mandated discount that government units receive.
Increased visibility of public notices for citizens:
Publications will be required to upload public notices to a statewide aggregated public notice website where notices can be searched by county, municipality, newspaper, or search words.
Published public notices concerning court cases will be required to be uploaded to the Indiana Supreme Court’s MyCase platform. This will mean attorneys will get an alert when the required notice has been published. HSPA will coordinate with the Indiana Supreme Court as to an acceptable verification system that will satisfy due process requirements.
The draft will address how notices should be published in counties where no newspaper exists. This currently isn’t a part of the statute and Indiana currently has two counties that lack a newspaper as defined by the law.
The legislation will make “locality newspapers” eligible to carry public notices of counties. This will increase the number of readers who will receive the published notices.
Transition to digital public notice requirement:
Print publication will be replaced by digital publication in five years (2027). This aligns with the state’s efforts to increase broadband speed and availability throughout the state.
Digital public notice landscape
Public notices shall be published on the websites of local journalistic entities. They will not be placed behind paywalls to increase public accessibility. Eligibility criteria to carry public notices will allow for flexibility in business models for the journalistic business, but require a commitment for these entities to report the news of a community. This also ensures the integrity of the process as the journalistic entity shall be required to verify the digital publication for payment. Taking the distribution out of he hands of a government unit prevents the state from creating a “fox guarding the henhouse” situation.
The complicated line rate formula for printed public notices that caps what state and local government units can be charged for public notices will be replaced by a simple per word cost. This will allow an agency to easily estimate the cost before it submits a public notice. This cap will be allowed to increase or decrease depending on an inflation metric, such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Public notices will be required to be posted on the websites for several months to increase the opportunity for Hoosiers to be made aware of the information. This replaces print requirements where publication is done either once, twice or three times.
HSPA will coordinate with the Indiana State Library and State Archives to create a system to make sure public notices are preserved for historical reference.
The proposed legislation moves the public notice process from print to digital while maintaining the integrity of due process and government transparency. It also addresses cost issues raised by local government and private parties. It recognizes how Hoosiers’ news consumption habits are changing while preserving the element of independence needed in the distribution process of notices.