In 2016, the Wisconsin legislature created a study committee to “update and recodify” the statute relating to public notice “to reflect technological advances and remove obsolete provisions.” The committee was charged with considering changes to the statute that would “allow for information to be made available only electronically or through nontraditional media outlets.”
The Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) mounted an impressive effort to convince the committee that newspapers and their websites were still the right place for public notice. The committee met three times and ended its review on Oct. 10, deciding to recommend only one change to a minor category of notices. We spoke with WNA Executive Director Beth Bennett about the process.
PUBLIC NOTICE MONTHLY: How did the process get started?
BETH BENNETT: Representative Jesse Kremer requested that the Wisconsin Joint Legislative Council conduct a formal review of how public notices are published by newspapers. Rep. Kremer cited the need to address “new technologies” in the current public notice statute that requires publication in newspapers. He stated in his request that he was working on legislation to change the statute, to allow online-only news sources to be designated as “newspapers of record”. This is just another way of saying that he wanted to amend the statute to allow online news sources to publish legal notices.
PNM: Is Kremer still considering introducing a bill?
BENNETT: Not that I am aware of, but we know of two other legislators who have plans to introduce bills this year that will do-away with newspaper publication of public notices.
PNM: For other newspaper industry representatives who may eventually be faced with a similar situation in their state, can you quickly name the three most important things WNA did to protect its members’ public notice franchise?
1: A great business model for supporting the statewide public notice website and historical archiving of all public notices via the Wisconsin newspaper archive which dates back to 2005.
2: Providing the Council with the “big” picture of just how involved a process the publication of public notices is.
3. Successfully arguing that there is no other third-party vendor that can represent all of the needs of public notice advertisers like newspapers.
PNM: Did you organize any grassroots outreach by members during this process?
BENNETT: We did not ask members to reach out. There was no real “ask” during the review. We believed that it was better not to lean on the public officials that were a part of the committee before knowing if we even had a problem.
PNM: Was there a key moment in the process when you realized, “Ok, this isn’t going to end badly?”
BENNETT: Yes. It was a real eye-opening moment for the government representatives on the committee when our folks pointed out that the courts and private citizens also place notices and would be affected by any changes in the law. I guess it was the first time they realized that it’s not just units of government that would be affected by any decision made on the publication of public notices.
PNM: Did the process reveal any holes in the Wisconsin newspaper industry’s handling of public notices that you think needs to be corrected?
BENNETT: Only that we would be advised to call on our public notice advertisers in the same way that we call on all other advertisers.