Bill eliminating publication requirement of sheriff sale notices moves forward

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Senate leadership will determine which of its committees will be assigned H.B. 1212 – the bill eliminating the publication requirement for notice of sheriff’s sales (mortgage foreclosures).

Generally, the President pro tem assigns House bills after the deadline for passage of Senate originating bills, which will be Feb. 26. Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, is the new President pro tem this session of the General Assembly.


“In my 26 years with HSPA, there never has been a bill attempting to eliminate public notice advertising that originated from the public or any group representing rank-and-file Hoosiers.”

Steve Key, HSPA executive director & general counsel


Authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, H.B. 1212 was approved by the House with a 62-34 vote. The bill is being supported by the Indiana Sheriffs Association and Indiana Bankers Association. It would replace publication with posting on the websites of sheriffs.

“As has been the case for decades, legislation to eliminate public notice advertising always attracts support from sectors regulated by government who face scrutiny from public notices, government entities held accountable through public notice attention, or government bureaucrats who would prefer to eliminate the work of actually placing notices in newspapers,” said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

“In my 26 years with HSPA, there never has been a bill attempting to eliminate public notice advertising that originated from the public or any group representing rank-and-file Hoosiers.”

A 2017 survey by American Opinion Research in Princeton, NJ, found that 63 percent of Hoosiers wanted public notices in their local newspaper even if it cost the government agencies several thousand dollars.

Hoosiers also said they would be 60 percent less likely to see notices published on government websites.

Key publishers are attempting to secure a meeting with Sen. Bray to discuss the bill and newspapers role in a democracy. 

The Senate sponsor for H.B. 1212 is Sen. Andrew Zay, R-Huntington, who authored another bill this session that would eliminate the publication of public notices by local government units (S.B. 435).

Here are some talking point concerning value of publication of notice of sheriff’s sale (mortgage foreclosure) and newspaper publication of public notices in general:

Notice of sheriff’s sale

Publication benefits the subject of the foreclosure

This notice is 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 have been put into foreclosure without their knowledge.

For those who are properly going through foreclosure, increasing the pool of potential bidders beyond the banks and insiders (real estate investors and professional house-flippers) to the whole community increases the chance for a higher bid, which eliminates more of the debt.

Publication benefits the community

Publication of a mortgage foreclosure can alert a business owner 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?

The number of foreclosures are 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 a tidal wave of mortgage foreclosures.

H.B. 1212 shifts the advertising cost from a winning bidder to taxpayers

Under present system, cost of the sheriff’s sale is paid for by the winning bidder. H.B. 1212 replaces the advertisement with the requirement that the sheriff maintain a website that posts all sheriff’s sale notices, develop a system to provide proof of the posting for a period of time without any alteration or gap, and an archiving of the notices for three years. This diverts manpower from law enforcement to the support of banks foreclosing homes.

Publication of public notices

Government websites doesn’t add, but subtracts from the public’s awareness of notices

In addition to the print version, newspapers also post public notice advertising on their websites and a statewide website that aggregates notices from the entire state at www.indianapublicnotices.com. Trading that for a posting on a government website reduces the number that will see any notice. American Opinion Research survey in 2017 found Hoosiers would be 60 percent less likely to read notices on government websites compared to publication in their local newspaper.

Public wants and expects to find public notices in local newspaper

Hoosiers have repeatedly said they want government to publish the notices in their newspaper. The percentage was 63% who supported publication even when told the publication could cost a government agency several thousands of dollars in a year. Responding to an IDEM proposal to eliminate the publication of notices for an Air Quality Permit (permission to pollute sought be businesses), IDEM received 607 public comments – 603 opposed the idea while four were supportive.

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 tax-paying voters is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse. 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.”

Newspapers make public notices accessible (three million adult Hoosiers read a newspaper at least once a week), verifiable (a printed newspaper can not be hacked); and archivable (local libraries maintain microfilm copies of local newspapers as the first draft of history.

 

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