Anti-public notice bill expected to appear in short session

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The General Assembly will convene on Monday, Jan. 6, in its non-budget, short session. The legislative session will be particularly fast-paced as leadership in the House and Senate have pegged March 11 as the ending date.

The 2020 election carries additional importance for Republicans and Democrats. Whoever controls the legislature will lead the redrawing of district lines for the decade. If Republicans continue to hold super-majorities in both chambers, they can act with little regard for Democratic input in the redistricting effort.

With an eye toward the 2020 election, it’s not expected that Republican leadership in the General Assembly will look to tackle controversial topics that would anger large numbers of Hoosiers.

HSPA’s lobbying partners, The Corydon Group, have been told an anti-public notice bill should be filed.

It’s more likely Republicans will look to notch some legislative victories by raising the legal smoking and vaping age, passing some relief for teachers impacted negatively by the school testing problems, and moving other non-controversial bills.

Controversy also works against the legislative goals because the shortness of the session will limit to two or three hearings at most per committee. Committee chairs will be reluctant to take on controversial bills that would pack a committee room and result in hours of testimony, killing the opportunity for hearings on non-controversial legislation.

The above factors hopefully will result in an absence of movement on efforts to eliminate the publication requirement for public notices. The publicity created by an effort to hamper government transparency shouldn’t play well in the legislators’ districts.

Despite this atmosphere, HSPA’s lobbying partners, The Corydon Group, have been told an anti-public notice bill should be filed. While the author hasn’t been identified, Chris Gibson and Steve Wolff of The Corydon Group said Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, indicated she would not file such a bill.

Rep. McNamara was the author last year of the bill that would have eliminated the publication requirement of a published notice of a sheriff’s sale (mortgage foreclosure). Her bill passed the House, but died with a 4-5 vote in the Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.

Rep. McNamara did testify in the House Committee that her goal was to eliminate all publication requirements for public notices. Her latest constituent survey includes the following question: # 4 – Currently, most units of local government, like schools, must buy newspaper advertising space for certain announcements, like budgets. Do you believe posting this information online as well as in a public building should replace this sometimes costly public notification requirement?

While she might not be filing a bill for the 2020 session, the subject apparently is still of interest to her, said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

HSPA does hope to see public notice language it has worked out with the two organizations that offer legal aid to low income Hoosiers. The bill would give indigent plaintiffs the same rate as local and state government units in the placement of public notices.

The state-mandated rate would reduce the chance of someone being blocked from availing themselves of the legal system because they couldn’t afford to pay for the required public notice, Key said.

HSPA has reached out to Reps. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, and Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, and Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michigan City, in attempt to get language drafted in the 2019 session into a bill for the upcoming session.

The issue should be non-controversial since the Indiana Supreme Court has indicated it would support the idea, Key said.

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