Dark clouds dissipate on public notice front

Jul 11, 2017

By Richard Karpel
Public Notice Resource Center

The year began with a bang but may end with a whimper.

Legislation that would fundamentally alter public notice laws has been introduced in 21 states in 2017, and several of those bills once had real momentum. But with Memorial Day now behind us, 39 state legislatures have already adjourned, and only a few danger spots remain.

The latest threat to subside was in Maine, where a bill that would have moved public notice in the state from newspapers to a government agency website died last month despite strong support from Gov. Paul LePage. The clock also ran out on two bad bills in Missouri when the legislature there adjourned in mid-May. One bill would have moved municipal notices to government websites and the other threatened to shift foreclosure notices to websites operated by law firms.

Bills that would have moved most public noticessin to government websites also died in Texas and Florida, when the legislatures in those states adjourned sine die in May. Also, legislation that would make major changes to public notice in four other states, which have adjourned, appears to have no realistic prospect of passage even though the bills will be carried over until the end of next year’s session.

The only public notice bills that have been approved so far in 2017 introduce modest changes. At least nine states passed laws adding or enhancing newspaper notice requirements in narrowly defined circumstances, like grave relocations in Florida, mining permit applications in Michigan and new prison facilities in Arizona. At least six others moved similarly limited categories of notice to non-traditional venues, including government and radio/TV station websites.

Two states made slight changes to their main public notice statutes. Ill-inois revised notice requirements for jurisdictions without a newspaper and made technical corrections regarding type size and publication on the Illinois Press Association statewide public notice site. (The governor hasn’t signed the bill yet but is expected to do so.) Utah extended its eligibility requirements to publications that don’t have a periodical permit but publish at least monthly and contain at least 25 percent non-advertising content of “local or general interest”.

Many of these bills were so minor that state press associations didn’t take a position on them.

Unfortunately, some legislators are still intent on making mischief. In North Carolina, a bill that would completely revise the state’s public notice laws had passed the Senate and was still alive in the House as we went to press. And in Pennsylvania, a bill was introduced last month that would move local government notices from general circulation newspapers to government websites.

In Texas, the governor announced a special session beginning July 18 and newspapers there are worried that property tax notices could be targeted.

Public notice legislation could also still move unexpectedly in any of the states that haven’t yet adjourned this year. Last year’s epic public notice battle in New Jersey, for example, wasn’t joined until Gov. Chris Christie decided to target newspapers a couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday.