Papers need to examine state’s policy on public notices

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Technology can’t be held back.


Just as newspapers are adjusting to how people consume news and advertisers want to reach their audience, newspapers also need to examine the state’s policy on public notices. That’s exactly what the Hoosier State Press Association has pledged to the leadership of the four caucuses in the Indiana General Assembly to do – put together proposed legislation to modernize the state’s public notice law.


HSPA recognizes that public notices will move from a print-centric to digital-centric model. Indiana law already requires newspapers to post the public notices they publish on their websites. And HSPA created a website (www.indianapublicnotices.com) to collect and post the notices from its member newspapers on one site with word-searchable functionality.


In opposing the nearly 90 ill-thought out public notice bills over the last 21 legislative sessions, HSPA has repeatedly said it’s not a print v. digital issue. The problem often is the lack of attention to the four elements of effective public notices that newspapers have always provided – accessibility, verification, archiving, and independent source to distribute.


The need for an independent entity is where our fight normally occurs. State agencies and local government units want to just post it on their websites. They publicly cite cost savings (while never acknowledging the high discount they receive due to the legislatively set cap on what newspapers can charge).

… HSPA will present a proposal to lead Republican and Democrat legislators this summer. Your task is to give some thought to the details that need to be worked out for an effective policy.


With the experience of now 28 legislative sessions, I firmly believe the real motivation for government official rests on one of two fault lines – first, bureaucrats want to make their lives easier and having to go through the process of determining when they need to get the notice to the newspaper to meet its ad deadline, collecting the tearsheet from the newspaper and then processing a check for the placement is work. Work compared in their minds to having someone hit a button to post it on their website. The other line of thought for some is that they know very few citizens will find the notices on their websites, so they won’t have to deal with Hoosiers actually showing up for meetings and raising questions about what the officials have already decided they want to do.


It’s poor public policy to rely upon those being held accountable to be the gatekeeper of information Hoosiers need to make sure the government is serving citizens, not government officials or special interests.


But as I said technology waits for no one, so HSPA will present a proposal to lead Republican and Democrat legislators this summer.


Your task is to give some thought to the details that need to be worked out for an effective policy:


What should trigger a transition from print to digital first in a county or community? Is it broadband availability? Should the minimum download speed be 25 mbps? How do we recognize the pockets of Amish communities?


What criteria should be developed as to who should serve the role of an independent conduit for public notices? HSPA will argue that entities that are covering the news of a community will continue to be the best place for public notices.


How do you verify or archive a digital notice to satisfy the due process requirements of a judicial process? It’s not as easy as clipping the public notice from the newspaper and attaching it to a proof of publication form.
What’s the proper cost to post public notices for government agencies in a digital landscape? What factors are relevant – size of the notice, readership of the entity, size of the county?


The devil’s always in the details, but HSPA must put together a package that serves Hoosiers while maintaining the four elements of effective public notices.


HSPA will be reaching out to its members for input on all the above questions later this year.

— Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

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