The Hoosier State Press Association is in the process of reading the hundreds of bills filed for the 2021 Indiana General Assembly and have identified several that should concern member newspapers. HSPA executive director and general counsel Steve Key is reaching out to the authors of high priority bills to see what can be done about language we oppose.
Following are the bills of highest concern so far:
H.B. 1498, authored by Rep. Doug Miller, R-Elkhart, would eliminate the publication requirement of public notices for all state and local government units. Publication in local newspapers would be replaced by posting on government websites. HSPA does not know at this time whether Rep. Miller decided to file this bill on his own initiative or is carrying it for someone else or some entity.
S.B. 332, authored by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, would impact all public notices that currently require publication more than once in local newspapers. Those notice requirements would change to once in print and subsequent notices on government websites. As with H.B. 1498, HSPA doesn’t know the genesis of this bill.
S.B. 409, authored by Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Crown Point. This bill would eliminate the inclusion of the abstract listing all payments by townships, which is included as part of the annual financial report. This is a requirement not shared by any other public agency that publishes an annual report. HSPA will reach out to Sen. Niemeyer on this bill.
H.B. 1395, authored by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, would allow the Department of Natural Resources to eliminate the publication requirement of notices of new rules – replacing the publication requirement with posting “electronically.” HSPA will reach out to Rep. Eberhart to discuss the provision in this DNR bill.
S.B. 188, authored by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford. This bill would eliminate the publication of unclaimed property lists by the state Attorney General in local newspapers. The publication would be replaced by a twice-a-year notice of the AG’s contact information for the program. HSPA has talked to Sen. Koch and the staff of new AG Todd Rokita about our concern. The language comes from a national uniform code commission model. We’re hopeful that Koch and Rokita will support the preservation of the current public notice.
H.B. 1312, authored by Rep. John Prescott, R-Union City. This bill would impose a surcharge tax on social media providers. The tax components include a percentage of the providers’ advertising revenue in Indiana. HSPA trying to ascertain the danger of this concept as an opening for a future tax on advertising in general, which would directly impact newspapers.
H.B. 1459, authored by Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, repeals the state’s anti-SLAPP statute and replaces it with new language. HSPA has asked Indiana Broadcasters Association counsel Dan Byron to weigh in on whether this bill should be supported or opposed. Dan has used this statute to successfully protect newspapers and TV stations from libel lawsuits.
S.B. 369, authored by Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger. This bill would allow members of local governing bodies to be counted as part of a meeting quorum and partake of votes while participating electronically. Sen. Rogers has indicated her willingness to work with HSPA on requirements that should be tied to this change in the Open Door Law. An informal survey of members resulted in a near 50-50 split as to the benefits and issues of electronic meetings in general held during Governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency order tied to the pandemic.
We haven’t tracked it down yet, but HSPA believes there may be a similar bill filed in the Indiana House of Representatives.
S.B. 69, authored by Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport. This bill would allow conservancy district board to have members participate in meetings electronically and count as part of the quorum and vote. HSPA is working with Sen. Donato on this bill to ensure it contains appropriate guardrails to preserve the public’s ability to hold these districts accountable.