Of Record 2014

December 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Michigan House Passes Bill to Move Notices Online, Dies in Senate
Newspapers in Michigan breathed a sigh of relief when the Michigan Senate adjourned – nearly 18 hours after being called into its last day of session – without taking up legislation which would let local governments publish public notices online instead of in newspapers. The Michigan House of Representatives approved legislation 62-47 earlier this month. If the changes had been passed into law, local governments would have also been allowed to publish public notices on TV and radio station websites.
Bill passes allowing online publication of legal notices – Michigan Lawyers Weekly (12.5.2014)
No Public Notice in Newspapers by 2025? – The Michigan Press Association Bulletin (11.13.2014), (story and MPA talking points)
Nixing public notices to keep citizens in the dark – Leader Publications (11.20.2014)
Public notices bill threatens crucial check on government power – MLive Media Group (11.30.2014)

Sony Hack ‘Would Have Challenged Even State Government’
The high-profile cyberattack on Sony would have challenged almost any cyber security measures, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said. An FBI investigation calls the level of sophistication of the software used by the hackers “extremely high” and the attacks “organized and certainly persistent.”

Joe Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, told the Senate Banking Committee that “the malware that was used would have gotten past 90 percent of the Net defenses that are out there today in private industry and [would have been] likely to challenge even state government.” His comments were officially confirmed later by the FBI.

The Washington Post editorial board wrote that this is “dangerous fallout from … the inability of Congress and the president to provide stronger protection for the private-sector networks that are at the heart of U.S. society in the digital age.”

One of the important concerns about moving public notices away from newspapers is the vulnerability of websites – including government-run websites – to outside hack attacks, which could alter or even remove public notices from the site.
FBI official calls Sony attackers ‘organized,’ ‘persistent’ – CNET (12.10.2014)
Sony hack would have challenged government defences – The Guardian (12.12.2014)
Hollywood gets hacked, highlighting a new cybersecurity threat – Washington Post (12.11.2014)

Surveys Show Millennials Rely on Newspaper Media More Than Realized
The Newspaper Association of America is touting recent studies which shows that America’s 80 million millennials rely on newspaper media more than they receive credit for. An NAA study revealed that the audience engaged with newspaper digital content reached a new peak in August 2014, totaling 164 million unique visitors, an 18% from August 2013. Women ages 18-24 were the fastest-growing segment of the digital newspaper audience, rising 38%. The groups next highest in growth were men 35-44 and men 45-54, which rose 31% each. More than nine in 10 – 92% – of women ages 25-34 read newspaper digital content, the greatest reach among any age or gender.

At the same time, The New York Times has reported than 10% of its print subscribers are between the ages of 18 and 24, and Nielsen research says that 55% of those 18-34 read a print newspaper in a typical week. The complete NAA survey can be downloaded here.
Contrary to stereotypes, millennials rely on newspaper media – Newspaper Association of America (11.2014)

Indiana Survey Shows Taxpayers Willing to Pay for Transparency
A 2014 survey commissioned by the Hoosier State Press Association showed that 85 percent of respondents support the publication of public notices as a way to inform the public of government actions, the HSPA reported in The Indiana Publisher. The association notes that even those respondents who don’t read public notices support keeping them in newspapers. Only 61 percent of respondents have read or seen a public notice in a newspaper.

“That indicates that even people who don’t read notices regularly still support the concept because they trust their neighbor or co-worker will see a notice of interest and let them know about,” said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

Only 25 percent of respondents picked government websites as their preferred source for public notices.
Notices worth cost to Hoosiers – The Indiana Publisher (11.13.2014)
Editorial: The public’s right to know – Kokomo Tribune (11.21.2014)

FTC Says Web Privacy Certification Company Deceived Customers
TRUSTe, a company that is supposed to help consumers figure out which websites to trust, deceived customers, according to a Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC alleged that the company, which gives websites a digital “privacy seal” as a sign the site could be trusted, failed to conduct annual re-certifications of more than 1,000 websites between 2006 and 2013, despite claiming that it conducted such re-certifications yearly.

One of the main impediments to putting public notices on government websites is that there is no neutral third party available to verify that the public notice was not altered once published, a role traditionally played by newspapers, which provide an affidavit which can be used in an evidentiary proceeding to demonstrate that a true copy was published as well as the exact wording that was used.

“TRUSTe promised to hold companies accountable for protecting consumer privacy, but it fell short of that pledge,” said FTC chair Edith Ramirez, in a statement. Though not strictly related to public notices, the complaint against TRUSTe brings forth fresh concerns about whether a notice published only online can ever be truly authenticated.

TRUSTe will pay $200,000 to the US Treasury as part of its settlement with the FTC.
FTC Penalizes TRUSTe, a Web Privacy Certification Company – New York Times (11.17.2014)
Latest FTC enforcement action shows why it’s so hard to figure out who to trust online – Washington Post (11.17.2014)

Census Report Shows 25% of Americans Lack Internet Access
A recently-released report from the United States Census Bureau reports that more than 25% of American households remain without an internet connection in their home. Data from 2013 shows that 74.4% of American households use the internet, with 73.4% reporting a high speed internet connection.

The study reports that household computer ownership and Internet use were most common in homes with relatively young householders, in households with Asian or White householders, in households with high incomes, in metropolitan areas, and in homes where householders reported relatively high levels of educational attainment.

The PNRC anticipates that 2015 will bring further attempts to move public notices onto government websites and more states possibly looking into using social media for public notices, all of which will make it difficult to access for those American households which remain without Internet access.
Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2013 – United States Census Bureau (11.2014)

State Legislation
States have already begun the pre-filing process for 2015. Now is a great time to let us know at the PNRC how we can best help you throughout the legislative year. Contact us at info@pnrc.net with any ideas/suggestions. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit our PNRC state legislation chart.

Articles & Editorials

Public Notices Must Stay in Newspapers, Utah Legislator Says
A Utah legislator told an audience of community newspaper people from across the country that they have an important, independent role to play as publishers of government public notices.

“Don’t let the fox guard the hen house,” state Sen. Stephen H. Urquhart (R-Dist. 29), said as part of a discussion about whether government should be solely responsible for making legal notices, such as meeting minutes or bid notices available to the public. Urquhart told publishers and editors attending the National Newspaper Association (NNA) convention in San Antonio that the public trusts the press more than it does government.
Public notices must stay in newspapers – National Newspaper Association (11.3.2014)

Lack of Notice Forces County to Hold Second Hearing on Airport
County officials in Warren County, New York, will be forced to hold a second public hearing on a proposed county airport runway extension after foes of the project discovered there was no public notice given of an October hearing.

The hearing was supposed to focus on a draft environmental assessment, but instead turned into a meeting where opponents of the project voiced their concerns. Following the meeting, the county was notified that opponents were unable to locate the legal notice that was required to be be published in the Glens Falls Post-Star, the newspaper reported. The newspaper reported that more than 90 people attended the meeting and that “no one who wanted to attend has indicated they weren’t aware of it, [but] the county is obligated to hold the hearing again.”

A county supervisor blamed the oversight on an engineering firm hired by the county for the assessment. “It wasn’t done intentionally. It was an oversight,” said Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty. “Is it going to change anything? I don’t think so. maybe we’ll get three or four more people.”
Do-over of airport hearing needed – Glens Falls Post-Star (11.4.2014)
Public hearing scheduled Thursday for airport environmental assessment – Glens Falls Post-Star (10.22.2014)

Minnesota School Faces Lawsuit After Missing Notice Deadline
Officials in the Sibley County, Minnesota, are facing a lawsuit filed by a group of local taxpayers after missing a deadline to notify taxpayers of a $43 million bond referendum.

“The state legislature, when it passed the statutes governing bond ballot elections, placed specific deadlines to give notice to the voters well before the election for a reason,” said Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing local taxpayers. “It gives the voters an opportunity to question and explore the rationale for the bonding request, especially, in instances like here, where $43 million in bonding money is sought.”

Voters narrowly approved a controversial proposal to build a new elementary school and upgrade school buildings in the district on November 4, but opponents claim the district published legal notice of the election in local newspapers 12 days before the election, rather at least 14 days, as required by law.

“My big fear was that we screwed up,” said Kurt Menk, editor of the Arlington Enterprise, one of four legal newspapers of record within school district boundaries. “But we looked and we did everything the way they (school administrators) sent it over.”

Moreover, the lawsuit contends, educators missed the legal deadline to publish a summary of the state education commissioner’s findings on the referendum in local newspapers, 20 to 60 days before the election. A 33-word statement printed more than a week after the October 15 deadline did not mention the words “bond referendum” or “election” and failed to meet state standards that require districts to provide voters adequate information, Watchdog.org reports.
MN school sued for being tardy on $43 million referendum – Watchdog.org (11.14.2014)


November 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Penn. reporter wins state’s first Public Notice Award
Jim Lockwood, staff writer at The Times-Tribune, Scranton, is the 2014 recipient of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association’s Public Notice Award, receiving a $200 cash award. In its inaugural year, the Public Notice Award recognizes excellence in journalism that draws reader attention to public notices. This cash award is sponsored by The Legal Intelligencer, Philadelphia. The winning entry will be entered into the national competition sponsored by the Public Notice Resource Center to vie for the 2015 national award of $700.

Lockwood, who was presented the PNA Public Notice Award Nov. 7, 2014, during the PNA Annual Convention in Pittsburgh, frequently uses public notices in his stories, and was recognized by the judges for “persistent use of public notices in his reporting, and his commitment to spotlighting their power. His stories consistently and concisely informed the Scranton community by explaining processes, highlighting legal requirements and encouraging involvement.”
Lockwood in honored with Public Notice Award – Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (10.28.2014)

S.D. survey shows nearly half read public notices in newspapers
A 2014 survey by the South Dakota Newspaper Association shows that nearly half – 48.7 percent – of all South Dakotans read public notices such as school board minutes and zoning notices.

“This survey represents the only bona fide research that I am aware of in South Dakota to measure readership of public notices,” said SDNA general manager David Bordewyk. “Often we hear special interest lobbying groups who oppose publication of government public notices in newspapers say that no one reads them. Well, this data blows that notion out of the water.”
South Dakotans support the publication of public notices in the local newspaper – SDNA (10.2014)

White House, USPS, city of Mobile computers hacked
Recent reports of the hackings of unclassified computers at the White House, employee records at the US Postal Service and of computers the City of Mobile, Alabama, have provided emphasis to the argument against making important government information, such as public notices, available exclusively online.

Hackers thought to be working for the Russian government breached White House networks, resulting in temporary disruptions to some services. “A variety of actors find our networks to be attractive targets,” an unidentified White House official told the Washington Post.

“The objective of this may have been a test to determine what the security culture is at the White House before targeting more sophisticated networks,” Armond Caglar, a senior threat specialist at the firm TSC Advantage, told Time.

The USPS has told its roughly 800,000 employees and retirees that an attack “potentially compromised” databases containing employees’ names, birth dates, addresses and Social Security numbers. Authorities believe the hackers of the postal service’s computers may be based in China.

Mobile officials reported that hackers were to blame for a nearly week-long outage of the city’s email system. The Alabama Media Group reported that the outage affected every city department, including police, public works and the mayor’s office.

The city joins other high-profile hacking victims, such as eBay, AOL and, in 2013, the state of Montana, which notified some 1.3 million people, including current and former residents, that their personal information may have been accessed earlier that year.
Hackers breach some White House computers – Washington Post (10.28.2014)
Why You Should Care That the White House Got Hacked – Time (10.29.2014)
Postal Service Discloses Major Theft of Its Employees’ Personal Data – New York Times (11.10.2014)
Mobile city email system attacked by hackers – AL.com (10.27.2014)
On heels of city of Mobile hacked, here’s some tips – AL.com (10.27.2014)

Oklahoma Court Rejects Facebook Paternity Notice
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that a pregnant, unwed mother can’t use Facebook to tell the father of their child about the baby prior to putting the child up for adoption.

The issue came up as part of a custody battle between the father and the adoptive parents of the now two-year-old child. Billy McCall, who fathered the child known as K.P.M.A. in court documents, went to court to contest the termination of his parental rights.

After a brief relationship in 2011, the child’s mother sent a Facebook message to McCall telling him she was pregnant, court papers say. McCall, who was Facebook friends with the woman, told the court he never saw the message.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a Facebook message does not satisfy the state’s requirement that the natural father of a child born out of wedlock is entitled to be notified of the existence of the child.

“This Court is unwilling to declare notice via Facebook alone sufficient to meet the requirements of the due process clauses of the United States and Oklahoma Constitutions, because it is not reasonably certain to inform those affected,” Justice Douglas Combs wrote for the majority.
Court: Facebook Not a Valid Way for Mom to Tell Dad She’s Pregnant – Wall Street Journal Law Blog (10.17.2014)
Facebook message not enough when terminating father’s parental rights in Oklahoma – The Oklahoman (10.19.2014)
In re: Adoption of K.P.M.A.

S.C. Attorney General’s Opinion Sought on City Council Meeting
The South Carolina attorney general’s office has been asked to determine whether a meeting of the Simpsonville, South Carolina, City Council violated state laws by touring an old school building without public notice.

Two city council members, the city’s mayor pro tem and several other city officials visited the school building on Sept. 26 to examine the possibility of moving the city courtroom and offices there, the Greenville (S.C.) News reported. The two council members are each a part of two different three-person city committees. There was no prior public notice of a meeting.

“If any two committee members get together, you have a quorum,” Councilman George Curtis told the newspaper. “This council was warned repeatedly that this is a problem.”

Taylor Smith, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, said that if a quorum is present, the meeting is subject to FOIA. “If the meeting is subject to FOIA, 24 hours notice must be given,” he said.
Opinion sought on legality of Simpsonville City Council meeting – Greenville (S.C.) News (10.19.2014)

State Legislation

Only a handful of state legislatures remain open for business in 2014, but states have already begun the pre-filing process for 2015. Now is a great time to let us know at the PNRC how we can best help you throughout the legislative year. Contact us at info@pnrc.net with any ideas/suggestions. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

State Legislation – the 2014 Year in Review
The 2015 legislative season is right around the corner with eight states already starting the pre-filing process. The PNRC anticipates that the new-year will bring more threats to self-storage notices, further attempts to move public notices onto a government website and more states possibly looking into using social media for public notices.

Looking back at 2014, many legislative threats to public notices in newspapers were thwarted. The trend to move public notices to a government website continues to be a challenge, however no legislation was passed in 2014 to move these notices to the internet. Likewise, broad-based proposals to move all notices to a website and foreclosure notices to the web were also struck down.

However, self-storage notices suffered two setbacks this year as legislation passed in Indiana and Massachusetts permitting, in lieu of newspaper publication, an advertisement “in any other commercially reasonable manner that is likely to attract at least three (3) independent bidders to the sale.” Conversely, five states successfully had this identical language removed from their bills.

Self-storage bills
PASSED & Signed by Governor
Indiana: HB 1385 – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Massachusetts: SB 2297 – “commercially reasonable manner” test

FAILED
Alabama: HB 421 – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Rhode Island: SB 2371 – Removes newspaper notice

AMENDED – notice to remain in newspaper
Georgia: SB 340 – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Illinois: SB 2952 – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Kentucky: SB 150 – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Minnesota: HF 2598 – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Missouri: HB 1225 – “commercially reasonable manner” test

Move government notices to the Web
FAILED
Massachusetts: HB 1586 – Move government notices to the Web
Minnesota: SF 1152/HF 1286 – Move municipal notices to a government site

ACTIVE
Michigan: HB 5560 – Filed – Move all government notices to Web by 2025
Pennsylvania: HB 2118 – Referred to Committee – Move local government notices to the Web

Move all Legal notices to the Web
FAILED – Louisiana: HB 806 – Create “official journal of state” which will move all notices to a statewide website
AMENDED, language removed – Rhode Island: H 7133 – Move all legal notices to the Web

Foreclosure notices
AMENDED, language removed – Missouri: HB 2282 – Eliminate newspaper notice

Study of Public Notices
FAILED – Hawaii: HCR2014 72/HR2014 49 – Comparative legal study

Social Media & Public Notices
FAILED – Mississippi: HB 630 – If the population is over 100,000, municipalities permitted to move their notices to the web if also posted in two forms of social media


Articles & Editorials

Ohio Coalition Files Amicus Brief
The Ohio Coalition for Open Government (OCOG) board has voted to file an amicus, “friend-of-the-court” brief in a case involving a quorum of Olentangy School District members deliberating via email instead of in a public meeting, reports Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association and president of the OCOG. The case is headed for the Ohio Supreme Court.

“OCOG got involved because the issues in this case transcend rocky relations between school board members in the Olentangy district,” Hetzel says. “If the appeals court decision is allowed to stand, it will be an invitation to elected officials across Ohio to secretly deliberate by email and exclude other elected board members from discussions that should be held in front of the public.”

Joining the appeal with OCOG are the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. The Ohio Association of Broadcasters also is supporting the efforts.
OCOG to join in appeal of meetings case on secret email deliberations – Ohio Newspaper Association (10.17.2014)

Virginia School Board Calls Closed Door Session to Discuss Bibles
Paul Collins, a staff writer at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin, has reported on a public notice about a closed-door meeting of the Martinsville School Board. The closed meeting was called to discuss a letter from a non-profit law firm concerning the board’s denial of a local pastor’s request that Gideon Bibles be distributed in the city schools.

Collins writes: “According to a public notice of the meeting, the board will consider a motion to enter closed session for ‘discussion and consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members, attorneys or consultants pertaining to actual or probable litigation, or other specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice by such counsel, as authorized by Section 2.2-3711 (A) (7) of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.’”

The local pastor requested at the school board’s June 26 and Aug. 11 meetings that the board allow Gideon Bibles to be distributed in city schools. School board Chairman Robert Williams announced at the board’s Sept. 8 meeting that, following the advice of legal counsel, the board will not allow Bibles to be distributed in city schools.
Closed session is set – Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin (10.12.2014)

Washington School District Announces Monday Meeting on Sunday
A Washington school district is under fire after calling a special board meeting for Monday, October 13, a mere 24 hours before the meeting – and then holding the meeting at the home of a school board member, rather than at the district’s administrative offices.

“Why the district decided over the weekend to meet on Monday morning to discuss its communications wasn’t clear,” wrote Susan Parrish, the education reporter at The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. “The district wasn’t talking Monday afternoon, after the meeting came to light.”

Eric Stahl, a media and intellectual property lawyer with the firm Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, told the newspaper that “scheduling last-minute board meetings at an elected official’s house, with one weekend day’s notice, isn’t really conducive to transparent government. It certainly isn’t consistent with the spirit of Washington’s public meetings law.”

The school district’s chief of staff told the newspaper that the Vancouver Public Schools had complied with the 24-hour notice requirement to advertise special meetings of the board of directors. “The work session topic was board communication and was part of ongoing professional development for the board and the superintendent. Any member of the public who wanted to attend this work session was welcome,” he said.

However, Parrish notes, it was unlikely that many of the public knew about the meeting in advance.
Vancouver school board meets with minimal public notice – The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash. (10.13.2014)

S.D. Celebrates Public Notice Month
Newspapers across South Dakota celebrated Public Notice Month. One of our favorites is from the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. with a host of editorials and opinion pieces, including the following:

“[Public notices are] just one way to hold government bodies accountable to the citizenry and to provide transparency to their processes. Public notices are not sexy. They’re not entertaining. And, quite frankly, they’re often boring,” the newspaper writes. “So maybe you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the public notices. But because of them, and the requirement to post notices, the next time you want to address your city council, understand what your school board is doing or contact a county board, you’ll know what was discussed. You’ll have a level playing field because of third-party publishing that ensures protection from any vested interest.”
Editorial: Printing notices not sexy, still important – Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, S.D. (10.11.2014)


October 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC Debuts Self-storage Booklet
The history of public self-storage is one built through consumer trust and shored by checks and balances, but those checks and balances – in the form of public notice before the sale of a renter’s property – is under attack from the self-storage industry. In state after state, the industry is arguing that it should further enhance its power over its renters by providing little public notice of a property seizure and auction, perhaps only on a facility owner’s own website.

The Public Notice Resource Center’s new self-storage booklet examines the industry’s arguments and explains why strong public notice of storage auctions is important to balance the industry’s power. Extensively end-noted, the booklet provides original source material for each statistic and assertion, making it an indispensable tool for our subscribing partners and newspaper owners across the country. The booklet is available in print form from the PNRC, and is also available online at our website.

PNRC Handout Explains Why Gov’t Websites are not Ideal for Public Notices
In advance of the 2015 legislative season, the Public Notice Resource Center has prepared a downloadable handout for subscribing partners to use when discussing whether or not government websites are up to the challenge of providing trusted public notices. Reasons against moving public notices to government websites, all cited with original sources, include:

  • government websites are not user-friendly,
  • government websites come at significant costs to the public,
  • government websites can simply disappear, and
  • people simply do not look at government websites.

Subscribing partners can view and download the handout here.

Study Finds Newspapers Still Key in Reaching Rural Residents
An Oklahoma study finds that more rural residents prefer to get information via their newspapers (either print or online) over any other mode of communication. For groups trying to reach rural constituents, that’s important to keep in mind, says a report undertaken by the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) program in Oklahoma and reported by the Center for Rural Strategies.

When residents of 12 rural Oklahoma communities were asked about their current (and preferred) way of receiving information on local community events, respondents selected newspapers over social media or email by an overwhelming margin. This pattern held regardless of whether the surveys were paper-based or collected online. 

Thus, even in this age of endless Facebook feeds and dizzying arrays of other social media options, the good ol’ newspaper still has a beloved place in many rural residents’ hearts,” said the Center for Rural Strategies. “This is important for many businesses, nonprofits, clubs, governments and social networks that might be interested in promoting an event in a rural community.”

The survey results indicate that the newspaper (42%) is the most widely-selected medium for respondents’ current source of information, more than doubling the next most selected option, social media (20%). While newspaper readership in print has been in decline while digital newspapers have picked up, a 2013 survey for the National Newspaper Association still showed that 67 percent of respondents read a local newspaper in print every week.
Newspapers Still Key in Reaching Rural – The Daily Yonder/The Center for Rural Strategies (9.30.2014)

County Public Notice Calls ‘Informal Special Meeting’
Williamson, Tennessee, County commissioners are under fire after a public notice advertised “an informal special meeting” at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant in Franklin. County commissioner Kathy Danner told The Tennessean that she called the restaurant meeting so she and commissioners could get to know one another better and spur informal conversations outside the commission’s usual meeting room.

Danner told the newspaper that she had met with a board attorney to write the public notice and that no votes were taken at the meeting, but constituents and at least one watchdog group have questioned whether the public notice was enough to satisfy the state’s open meeting laws.

“Just because they posted a notice of this doesn’t mean they were holding a meeting that accommodated the public and that was set up for the public to come to,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
Williamson meeting raises concerns that laws were broken – The Tennesseean (9.12.2014)

State Legislation
Fewer than ten state legislatures remain open for business in 2014, but already seven states have begun the pre-filing process for 2015: Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming.

Now is a great time to let us know at the PNRC how we can best keep you informed throughout the coming year. Contact us at info@pnrc.net with any ideas/suggestions.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action since the last edition. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Self-storage bills
Massachusetts: SB 2297 – Passed to be engrossed (previously Passed Senate) – “commercially reasonable manner” test

UELMA
Pennsylvania: SB 601 – Signed by Governor, enacted into law

Articles & Editorials

Public Misled in Notice about Runway Location
Neighbors of the Marshfield, Massachusetts, Municipal Airport may take their case to court after the zoning board dismissed their request to issue a cease-and-desist order on the recently expanded runway because of an error in the special permit issued in 2011. A citizens’ group asked the zoning board to stop ongoing work at the airport, which is in both the airport and residential suburban zones.

When the zoning board granted a permit to relocate the airport’s runway, residents say, the permit and all associated public notices incorrectly listed the property as being in the airport and business highway zones, rather than the airport and residential suburban zones.

Attorney Sean Beagan, representing the Marshfield Citizens Against Airport Pollution group, called the permit “fundamentally flawed,” and said the errors on the public hearing notices created “substantial prejudice” because residents would have shown more interest if they knew the work was in the residential zone.
Marshfield Airport neighbors’ request to zoning board dismissed – The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. (9.25.2014)

Maryland County Poised to Jettison Newspapers
The Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association reports that residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, will vote in November on a charter amendment to reduce the number of newspapers of record in that county. The referendum question would change the number of newspapers of record from three to “one or more,” the association reports, noting that “the MDDC Government Affairs committee is concerned about limited public notice in any way.” The full language of the referendum question appears at the link below.
Public Notice Issues Flare – MDDC Press

MNA Launches Public Notice Website
The Minnesota Newspaper Association has launched its online public notice aggregator website of Minnesota public notices. All notices posted at mnpublicnotice.com have also been printed in member newspapers. Users can search notices by keyword, date, newspaper, county or city, at no charge. The association is striving for participation from all members. More information is available at the link below.
Public Notice Site Goes Live – Minnesota Newspaper Association (9.16.2014)

Newspaper Story, but not Public Notice, Informs Public of Industrial Sludge Dump
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has said it failed to notify the public in a timely, accurate and consistent manner about a company’s application to apply a waste called industrial sludge in several counties, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. The DEQ’s failure to notify the public came to light at a Hanover County Board of Supervisors meeting on August 27, when several residents said they didn’t know about the plan until they read an August 4 story in the newspaper.

The agency has reopened the public comment period, which had been closed since the end of January.
The Virginia DEQ failed to provide notification to local counties about industrial sludge – Richmond Times-Dispatch (9.9.2014)

Calif. Reformers Take Aim at Public Notice
The California Law Revision Commission, a state body responsible for studying California law to identify defects and anachronisms and recommending legislative reforms to the legislature, has recently been focusing its efforts on the law governing the publication of public notices, the California Newspaper Publishers Association reports. The commission is in the process of preparing a proposal to update the law, and will circulate the proposal for public comment soon.

The legislature asked the commission to study whether the law governing public notices needs to be amended to reflect changes made over a decade ago when the legislature shifted the operation of the trial courts from the counties to the state – a process known as trial court unification. Specifically, the commission found that the use of the term “Judicial District” in existing law is an anachronism. Judicial Districts have ceased to exist except for the purpose of publishing certain public notices since unification occurred.

CNPA staff testified at hearings to ensure that whatever the commission recommends, it includes 1) a requirement that these notices continue to be published in a newspaper of general circulation; 2) an emphasis on local notice, i.e., the geographical designation the commission chooses for replacing Judicial Districts should require the same hyper-local notice as Judicial Districts; and 3) the status of newspapers that are currently adjudicated for Judicial Districts should be recognized going forward as being adjudicated for the new geographical designation proposed by the Commission.

At a meeting on September 5, the commission adopted a Draft Tentative Recommendation prepared by its staff that is in line with the three CNPA objectives. Details are available at the link below.
Commission to propose legislative changes to public notice law – California Newspaper Publishers Association (9.12.2014)



September 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

So Transparent It Disappears Entirely
The risks of counting on government websites as the primary tool for public notice transparency were highlighted this week by the Washington Post’s revelation that the post-TARP website Recovery.gov would soon be immobilized.

First, the database will lose its search mechanism when Uncle Sam decides not to renew a $900,000-$1.4 million license with Dun & Bradstreet, which assigns unique identifiers to government contractors. Then, later in the year, the entire site will go down as the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board sunsets.

With the loss of licensee and overseers, the Internet-based accountability tools will vanish.  Could the same thing happen to websites designed to provide public notices? The loss of permanence could be only one lost contractor away.
Data on $800 billion in stimulus spending will disappear this year. Here is why. – Washington Post (9.9.2014)

Could Public Notices Acquire the Right to be Forgotten?
In May, the European Union’s Court of Justice ordered Google to grant people the right to be forgotten, Forbes columnist Joseph Steinberg reported at the time. “[This gives] people the ability to have themselves removed from search results that are ‘inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.’”

An August story by the PressGazette, a British magazine reporting on the media, said that Google has removed more than 30 links to stories from the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph since the court’s ruling. Mail publisher Martin Clarke has described the erasure of the stories from Google results as “the equivalent of going into libraries and burning books you don’t like.”

While the ruling only applies in Europe, Steinberg predicted at the time that it would indirectly benefit Americans as part of our discussion on privacy rights. Of concern is whether online-only public notices may, one day, acquire the right to be forgotten in the United States. It may seem far-fetched at the moment, but in reality, it is simply one more argument for keeping public notices in newspapers, where they will remain independent, archivable, verifiable and, perhaps most importantly, accessible.
Plot to hack newspaper among more than 30 BBC, Mail and Telegraph story links removed from Google – PressGazette (8.27.2014)
Your Privacy is Now At Risk From Search Engines — Even if the Law Says Otherwise – Forbes (6.2.2014)

Scranton Follows Notice Law, then Denies Access to Proposed Ordinance
The city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, has found itself in the middle of a controversy involving a public notice. But this doesn’t play out like most public notice stories, which tend to feature either a notice with some sort legal shortcoming or, just as often, a failure to provide notice altogether.

In this case, which involves enactment of the city’s earned-income tax and a corresponding commuter tax, Scranton Times-Tribune reporter Jim Lockwood writes that the city properly ran a public notice of Ordinance No. 41 in three issues of the Times-Tribune in August, which prompted an attorney representing a group of commuter tax opponents to ask city officials for a copy of the ordinance.

“The city clerk wouldn’t give it to him,” Lockwood wrote. “A reporter for the Times-Tribune asked to see Ordinance No. 41 and also was denied.”

Lockwood reported that the city is following Pennsylvania Act 53, the Local Tax Enabling Act, which requires a municipality to issue a series of three public notices of the intent to enact legislation in a newspaper of general circulation once a week for three weeks. “It says nothing about providing the public a copy of the draft ordinance,” he wrote.
Scranton issues public notice of tax ordinance, but public can’t see proposed law yet – Scranton Times-Tribune (9.3.2014)

Baltimore Sewage Spill Leads to Public Notice Confusion
An online news blog based in Baltimore has linked to a Maryland statute covering public notice requirements on sanitary sewer spills as part of its reporting of a spill in southwest Baltimore. The city disclosed the spill, as required for any discharge of 10,000 gallons or more, nearly two weeks after that point had likely been reached.

The story notes two apparently conflicting sections of the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 26.08.10.08, which governs notice of sewage spills. Section A requires that the “operator [of a sewage treatment facility] shall notify the public as soon as practicable, but not later than 24 hours after the time that the owner or operator becomes aware of the event.” The blog noted that the city did not meet the 24 hour deadline.

The city’s Department of Public Works told Baltimore Brew that it was in compliance with Section C of the regulation, which says that the operator must report an event to the media “if the overflow’s total volume at the time of completed repair as measured or estimated using best professional judgment is 10,000 gallons or more.”

The Brew notes that the regulation is unclear as to whether the estimating needs to be done only at the time of the completed repairs. “If so, Section C would always supersede Section A’s 24-hour requirement,” the blog says. “Such an interpretation would appear to render Section A moot, and no local agency would be required to inform the public of a sewer spill until after it has been fixed.”
Did late public notice of a sewer overflow slip through a legal loophole? – Baltimore Brew (8.6.2014)
Maryland state law on sanitary sewer spills: Public NotificiationBaltimore Brew (8.6.2014)

Louisiana Inactive Voter Lists are Back in the Newspaper
Following a one year hiatus in 2012, the Louisiana Secretary of State is once again publishing the state’s inactive voter lists in parish newspapers leading up to this year’s election. Before each Federal election, state law requires the government to publish a list of inactive voters, who will later be taken off the electoral rolls if they don’t show up to vote.

A state law passed in 2012 allowed the secretary of state’s office to make the inactive voter list available only on the internet, says Pamela Mitchell, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association, but the law came with a one year sunset provision. “The suspension was not renewed, and the list is being published this year,” she says.

Parish newspapers began running the public notices on July 29.

State Legislation

Welcome to the end of summer, when most legislatures have adjourned for the year and the list of threats to public notice is greatly diminished.

Now is a great time to let us know at the PNRC how we can best help you throughout the legislative year. Contact us at: info@pnrc.net  with any ideas/suggestions.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action since the last edition. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Fewer than ten state legislatures remain open for business in 2014, but five states have already begun the pre-filing process for their 2015 sessions: Florida, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming.

Government notices
Pennsylvania: HB 2118 – Hearing Scheduled (last bill action in March) – Move local government notices to the Web

Self-storage bills
Massachusetts: SB 2297 – Ordered to a Third reading (previously Passed Senate) – “commercially reasonable manner” test

Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act
Illinois: SB 1941 – Signed by Governor
Articles & Editorials
Controversy erupted around a public notice in Colorado Springs when city council members were asked to approve a new director of public works without knowing his name or salary, according to a story in the Colorado Springs Gazette. The story referenced a resolution (as part of a public notice) which failed to include either the candidate’s name or salary. Council member Joel Miller said that while the notice might be legal, “it does not seem like it’s complete. At some point, the confidentiality has to give way to public needs to know.”
Mayor’s appointee to Public Works was to be secret until Tuesday – Colorado Springs Gazette (8.25.2014)
Colorado Springs Council OKs new Public Works director – Colorado Springs Gazette (8.27.2014)

Newspapers around Indiana have been touting the importance of public notice through a column by Hoosier State Press Association executive director Steve Key.

“The practice, as old as the United States, is no less valuable in an electronic age than it was when homes were lit by candlelight,” wrote Key, who noted that some public officials would rather not have the public participation resulting from proper public notice.

“One Indiana school superintendent described her feelings about public notice succinctly,” he wrote. “[She said,] ‘when we publish public notices, the only thing that happens is people come to our meetings and give us crap.’”
Notices keep government transparent – Journal Review, Crawfordsville, Ind. (8.15.2014)
Public notices keep government transparent – News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind. (8.27.2014)

A recommendation from the Gardiner, Maine, city attorney to run additional public notices about the proposed transformation of an 170-year-old church into a hard cider brewery has put approval of the plan on hold.

The Gardiner City Council has already passed a new zoning ordinance to change zoning laws to allow for the reuse of some of the city’s older building whose original uses are no longer possible or suitable. The former church has been vacant since 2009. The hard cider brewery is the first applicant to use the new zoning policy.
Final hearing for Gardiner hard cider proposal delayed two weeks – Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine (8.26.2014)

 


August 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Trusting the Electronic Record? Online Opinions Don’t Match Final Supreme Court Decisions
The US Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without notifying the public, says a new study by Harvard law professor Richard Lazarus. The revisions include what he calls “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning.”

The problem, while not new, has become more widespread in recent years thanks both to the court posting the opinions on its website and increased public use of the posted opinions, some of which do not reflect the court’s final wording.

There are four generations of opinions, and only the last is said to be final. A story in the New York Times explains: “So-called bench opinions, in booklet form, are available at the court when decisions are announced. Slip opinions are posted on the court’s website soon after. They are followed by preliminary softcover prints and then by the only official versions, which are published in hardcover volumes called United States Reports. The official versions of opinions from 2008 were published in 2013.”

The Times story notes that the court does warn readers that early versions of its decisions, available at the courthouse and on the court’s website, are works in progress. A small-print notice says that “this opinion is subject to formal revision before publication,” and it asks readers to notify the court of “any typographical or other formal errors.”

The final and authoritative versions of decisions, some published five years after they were announced, do not, always fully supplant the original ones, the study says. Otherwise reliable Internet resources and even the court’s own website at times still post older versions.
Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing – The New York Times (5.24.2014)
The (Non)Finality of Supreme Court Opinions – Harvard Law Review (Forthcoming in December 2014)

Va. Work Group Recommends Ending RFP Publication in Newspapers
The Virginia Press Association reports that a work group studying aspects of Virginia’s Public Procurement Act has recommended that legislators implement a two-year transition before ending the requirement to publish requests for proposals in newspapers.

The July 23 compromise came after a nearly 70-minute discussion of an initial draft that called for the newspaper requirement to go away beginning July 1, 2018 and calling for public bodies conducting the procurement to report each year (from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018) where businesses submitting proposals learned of the opportunity. Under the revised agreement, entities would be required to report data for just one year.

One member of the work group suggested during the meeting that in three to four years, printed newspapers would no longer be around, an idea rebuffed during testimony by Matt Paxton, publisher and owner of The News-Gazette in Lexington.

“I can assure you, in four years we’ll still be publishing our paper because our readers demand it,” Paxton told the group in defense of keeping RFPs in newspapers. “Just as you outsource many, many things in government, you’re outsourcing this little-bitty thing and it’s a very miniscule portion of all your budgets. I think you’re looking for a solution that doesn’t need one.”

Just as businesses rely on seeing notices in newspapers, so too, does a locality’s residents, Virginia Press Association Executive Director Ginger Stanley told the panel.

“We talk so much here about the … folks who would be looking for requests for proposal, I think it’s so important that citizens know how government is spending their dollars,” she said. “Requests for proposals are one way they can always see that there is something in the works.”
Work group proposes to end requirement to publish RFPs in newspapers – Virginia Press Association (7.29.2014)

Unclaimed Property Reports Show States Holding $62 Billion in Unclaimed Funds
The publication of unclaimed property reports can do more than merely reunite Americans with “missing money” from paychecks, refunds, dividends and other forgotten funds, the New York Times has discovered. It also can lead to a sort of virtual celebrity spotting.

“For years, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers, and as many as 6,914 other customers, have never claimed refunds due them from Bergdorf’s,” began a recent story by Times reporter Sam Roberts, who also discovered that Rupert Murdoch was owed money by General Motors, Madonna didn’t cash at least two paychecks and that Russia’s mission to the United Nations is hoarding unredeemed gift certificates from BJ’s Wholesale Club.

When businesses and government agencies cannot find the rightful owner of the funds it is holding, they eventually surrender the funds to the state treasurer or comptroller, which then publishes the names online, at public events and, often, in newspaper advertising supplements.

Roberts reports that nationwide, states hold more than $62 billion in unclaimed funds – more than the individual general fund budget of all but California. While half the accounts hold less than $100, the biggest individual payout in New York, in 2008, was $4 million from a stock brokerage account.
A Mound of Forgotten Money – New York Times (8.1.2014)

Billings Editorial Calls Out City Council for Lack of Notice
In an editorial, the Billings Gazette has charged that the Billings, Montana, City Council has “violated the Montana Constitution and state statute by failing to give public notice of ‘council initiatives’ and votes.

The newspaper detailed a list of proposals and motions made at a recent council meeting for which the public did not receive notice, including a motion to buy U.S. flags to decorate the city, a proposal to seek an opinion from the state attorney general and a motion to create a cultural diversity training plan. “All those matters were first announced after all public comment periods had ended at the meeting,” the editorial says. “The right of participation … is meaningless if citizens don’t know what the City Council will act on. The right of participation comes down to public notice.”
Gazette opinion: Council must rectify failure to give public notice – Billings Gazette (6.30.2014)

Tennessee Lawsuit May Not Meet Public Notice Requirements
A lawsuit filed in Tennessee by the Carter County Board of Education against the City of Elizabethton to get a portion of liquor-by-the drink tax money may not get off the ground thanks to the lack of public notice preceding the meeting, the Elizabethton Star reports.

The Board of Education voted 7-0 on May 28 to move forward with the lawsuit, and filed the suit at 9:25 on the following morning. Reports indicate that the suit faced a June 1filing deadline under state law.

But Elizabethton Star reporter Abby Frye said that the decision to file the suit “might not have been the most controversial aspect of [the] meeting – the meeting itself may have violated state law.” The county director of schools confirmed that no advertisements for the meeting were placed for the special meeting.

“We didn’t advertise this,” said director of schools Kevin Ward, explaining that the meeting was needed on short notice due to the subject of the meeting being pending legal action. “We posted it at the office and notified (Elizabethton Star reporter) Ashley (Rader), which is what our attorney advised us to do.”

Ward said the notice for the meeting was posted at the school system’s administration building the day before the meeting. Rader said she received no voice-mail or other communication from anyone with the county school system regarding the special called meeting.

Frye interviewed Rick Hollow, general legal counsel for the Tennessee Press Association, who said that based on how the notification of the meeting was handled, the legality of the meeting, and therefore any action taken during the meeting, could be in question. “If all they did was post a notice on a bulletin board in a public place and leave a voice mail on a reporter’s phone then you do not have adequate public notice,” Hollow said. “Based on just those facts it is an apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act, so any action that they took, if they took any action, could be nullified if the meeting were challenged.”
TPA attorney says school system’s version of public notice could erase its vote to sue – Elizabethton Star (6.3.2014)
Lawsuit seeks back liquor-tax revenues – Elizabethton Star (6.3.2014)
Carter County School Board Sues Elizabethton for Liquor Tax Revenues – The Carter County Compass (5.30.2014)

State Legislation
Welcome to summer, when most legislatures have adjourned for the year and the list of threats to public notice is greatly diminished.

Now is a great time to let us know at the PNRC how we can best help you throughout the legislative year. Contact us at info@pnrc.net  with any ideas/suggestions.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action since the last edition. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

General
{Amended – language removed} Rhode Island:  H 7133 – Signed by Governor – A proposal buried in a 245 page appropriations bill, would move all legal notices to the Web.

Government notices
Massachusetts:  HB 1586 – Assigned to study Committee (Dead) – Move government notices to the Web

Post & Publish
Ohio:  HB 483 – Signed by Governor

Requiring minimum archiving, search capability on statewide site
Florida:  HB 781 – Signed by Governor

Self-storage bills
Massachusetts: SB 2297 – In House Chamber (previously Passed Senate) – “commercially reasonable manner” test
Rhode Island:  SB 2371 – Passed Senate (previously held for further study) – Removes newspaper notice

UELMA
Delaware: HB 403 – Signed by Governor
Illinois:  SB 1941 – Sent to Governor

Articles & Editorials
Scranton Times-Tribune reporter Robert Swift is the latest to report on a public notice carried within the pages of his own newspaper. On August 6, Swift reported on a proposed change in determining how public charities obtain tax-exempt status “as a result of a public notice published recently in newspapers.” Swift’s story notes that the issue is important to the tax base of older cities where nonprofit organizations are often concentrated.

“The notice by the Department of State provides the text of three proposed amendments to the state Constitution in order to meet legal advertising requirements,” he wrote. The public charity amendment stems from a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling denying tax-exempt status to a religious camp in Pike County, Pennsylvania.
Voters get heads up on proposed changes – Scranton (Pa.) Times-Tribune (8.6.2014)

South Jersey Times reporter Alex Young also reported on a public notice. On June 9, Young reported on a group’s proposal to open a dollar store in a vacant storefront in Quinton Township, New Jersey.

Young cites the May 30 public notice from the South Jersey Times in his reporting of the story. “The notice states that [investors] are seeing variances related to off-street parking at the store, as well as the number and size of signs. They are also hoping to maintain existing variances at the site related to the size of the lot,” he wrote.
Vacant Quinton business proposed as site for dollar store – South Jersey Times (6.9.2014)

The Texas Press Association honored four state legislators at its recent convention in Corpus Christi, saying that Sens. Rodney Ellis and Kevin Eltife, state Rep. Todd Hunter and House Speaker Joe Straus “have been reliable allies and enablers of open government and access-friendly laws [and] initiators of these laws.” TPA also said that one of its top legislative priorities for 2015 is protection of the requirement that state and local governmental bodies publish public notices in newspapers. Those bodies “continually seek to have publication on their websites count as fulfillment of the public notice requirement,” a TPA representative said.
Public’s right to know is a worthy legislative agenda – Seminole (Texas) Sentinel (7.2.2014)

Mark McEachen has been named chief executive officer of Dolan Media in Minneapolis. He was previously executive vice president and chief operating officer of Freedom Communications, a national information and media company. He holds an MBA and bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Windsor, and a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from the University of Western Ontario.

Hal Cohen has been named to ALM’s newly-created vice president and group publisher, northeast, position, where he will oversee the  New York Law Journal, The Legal Intelligencer, Delaware Law Weekly and other publications. Cohen was formerly publisher of The Legal Intelligencer, Philadelphia.

 



June 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Update: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Murfreesboro Mosque Appeal
The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a group of neighbors who tried unsuccessfully to block the construction of a mosque – on public notice grounds – in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

“The lawsuit over adequate notice is now completely over and Rutherford County has prevailed,” Islamic Center of Murfreesboro board member Saleh Sbenaty said.

As reported in the May of Record, attorneys for Rutherford County, Tenn., asked the court to reject hearing an appeal about the county’s public notice before approving construction of a mosque in 2010.

Plaintiffs failed to stop construction of the mosque in the case, which began in 2010, but a district judge found that the county government had failed to provide adequate public notice before the county’s Regional Planning Commission approved the congregation’s site plans. He said the county should have published its meeting agenda on its own website and public access channel. But the state’s Court of Appeals upheld the notice, which appeared in a local community weekly newspaper.

The Public Notice Resource Center filed an amicus brief with the appellate court urging that the district judge’s opinion urging use of non-newspaper sources be set aside and that the county’s decision to use the local newspaper was reasonable.

The public notice case was one of about 20 the court refused to hear.
Supreme Court refuses to hear Murfreesboro mosque case – The Commercial Appeal, Memphis (6.3.2014)
Supreme Court won’t hear Murfreesboro mosque case – The Tennesseean, Nashville (6.2.2014)
Background – The Public Notice Resource Center

Federal IT Managers Say Networks Can’t Meet Mission Demands
Two-thirds of federal network managers say their networks are ill equipped to meet their mission needs, let alone support new technology initiatives, a recent MeriTalk report says. The majority of survey respondents note that network issues such as poor connections, service disruptions, or downtime impact their agency mission at least bimonthly. On average, respondents say that they would need to increase capacity by 26% to support these five key infrastructure initiatives and realize long-term savings.

“Impact the mission? Every other month. How is that ok?” asks MeriTalk analyst Andrew LaVanway.

“The problem is intractable, so much so that we’ve almost accepted it. Agencies have accreted networks over time, so they are inordinately complex and disparately aging. Most of them are built on proprietary technology, so phasing in changes creates massive management migraines.The old infrastructure is way too expensive to replace, so agencies opt for IT’s equivalent of a payday loan – service contracts.”

Many state and state and local websites face similar challenges, which is of particular concern in jurisdictions which are considering moving public notices to government-run websites. Crumbling IT infrastructure is merely one more reason public notices should remain in print, where they are independently published, archivable, accessible and verifiable.
Show Me the Money: The Key to Doubling Agency Savings – MeriTalk (4.28.2014)
Indentured Servitude – Andrew LaVanway’s MeriTalk Blog (5.7.2014)

NYC Councilman Pushes to Publish all Notices on City Website
Under legislation introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos, New York City would be required to post all government notices on its website, from announcements of a community board meeting to an application for a new sidewalk cafe.

“There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of places where the government has to make a public notice – but nobody knows what the government is doing, because the public notice requirements are so arcane,” said Kallos, chairman of the government operations committee. “We can save a lot of paper and money and increase transparency,” he said.

The “eNotices” bill would require that all public notices produced by the government be made easily available online while also expanding the definition of public notice; mentions of “notify the public” would count should the bill be passed.

The bill would not, at the moment, remove public notices from newspapers. As written, the bill requires that “wherever any provision of the charter or administrative code requires the publication of any notice in a newspaper or other periodical … any such notice requirement shall include, in addition to any other requirements of law, publication of all information included in such notice on the city’s website.”

The bill was referred to the city’s technology committee.
Councilman Ben Kallos wants city to publish government notices on its website – New York Daily News (5.26.2014)
NYC Councilmember: Public Information Shouldn’t be a Game of Hide-and-Seek – Next City (5.30.2014)

Ohio Senate Passes Bill Favoring Ohio Newspaper Association Notice Website
Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, reports that the Ohio Senate has passed a bill which would make the ONA’s publicnoticesohio.com website the official website for Internet public notices in Ohio.

The measure, which is part of a large, mid-year budget bill, House Bill 483, now moves to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Should this become law, Hetzel says that the impact on ONA members will be minimal, since most members have been voluntarily uploading notices to the website for many months or even years. Once a feed is set up, it is a simple process that can be automated in most cases.

“However, posting to the site will become mandatory in most situations in order to qualify to publish notices,” Hetzel says. “The result will be a site that probably will contain more than 300,000 public notices annually in an easy to find and search format, including notices from the legal newspapers in Ohio’s large cities. And it will be a site maintained by all of us – the ones who know the best way to handle public notices, work with government advertisers and inform the public.”
Ohio Senate passes ONA language for notice website – Ohio Newspaper Association (5.23.2014)

Michigan Faces Renewed Public Notice Threat
The Michigan Press Association is keeping tabs on HB 5560, which would phase out all public notices in newspapers and allow for government notice online only by the year 2025.

The bill was discussed  by the House Local Government Committee in mid-May; MPA and MPA members testified at the meeting, including testimony by Mike MacLaren, MPA executive director, who provided information regarding notices being permanent, independent legal documents when printed in newspapers. Detroit Legal Newspapers president Brad Thompson noted that his company maintains copies of their newspapers going back to 1895.

“The sources people use to find information have shifted,” said Rep. Amanda Price, R-Holland, the sponsor of House Bill 5560. “More and more of them are going online. Many people who are under the age of 30 never read newspapers. With this bill we are looking to ensure that public notices remain widely accessible.”

MPA and member newspapers argue that if public notices are allowed to be posted in ways other than print editions, there could be the potential for the notices to be altered in nearly undetectable ways; they could, for example, be changed to hide the fact that they had been posted for a period of time with incorrect information.

“The Michigan Press Association opposes this bill because we feel it would eliminate due process for citizens by eradicating the permanent, legal, independent notices that have been provided in print by Michigan’s newspapers for over 150 years,” said Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager for the MPA.
Public notice threat continues – Michigan Press Association Bulletin (5.15.2014)
Bill Would Bring Public Notice Rule Changes – Michigan Capitol Confidential, Mackinac Center for Public Policy (5.17.2014)
Keep public notices – City Pulse (5.21.2014)

 

State Legislation
Nearing the home stretch with only 15 states remaining in session in 2014. See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action since the last edition. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Definition of Newspaper
Louisiana: SB 630 – Returned to Calendar (Previously Passed Senate) – define newspaper qualified to publish legal notices in two parishes
Louisiana: HB 787 – Signed by Governor – define newspaper qualified to publish legal notices in two parishes

Foreclosure
{Amended – notice to remain in newspaper} Missouri:HB 2282 – Referred to Committee – Eliminate newspaper notice

General
Louisiana: HB 806 – Withdrawn – Create “official journal of state” which will move all notices to a statewide website.

Government notices
Illinois: SB 3443 – Passed House & Senate – Allows reports of tax assessments to be moved from a newspaper to the Department of Taxation website
Louisiana: HB 725 – Withdrawn – Permits moving parish, municipal and school notices to Web
Michigan: HB 5560 – Filed – Move all notices to Web by 2025
North Carolina: SB 287 – Referred to Committee (carried over from 2013 Session) – Notice in newspaper and on newspaper website

Post & Publish
Ohio: HB 483 – Managers appointed to reconcile bills passed by House & Senate

Self-storage bills
{Amended – notice to remain in newspaper}
Illinois: SB 2952 – Passed House & Senate
New York: SB 7576 – notice by email
Rhode Island: SB 2371 – Passed Committee (previously held for further study) – Removes newspaper notice

UELMA
Colorado: HB 1194 – Signed by Governor
Illinois: SB 1941 –Passed House & Senate
Massachusetts: HB 38 – Passed Committee
Pennsylvania: SB 601 – Removed from table (carried over from 2013 Session)


May 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Rutherford County, Tenn., Urges US Supreme Court to Reject Appeal
Attorneys for Rutherford County, Tenn., have asked the United States Supreme Court to reject hearing an appeal about the county’s public notice before approving construction of a mosque in 2010. The request follows the request of a plaintiffs group that the high court hear their appeal. Plaintiffs failed to stop construction of the mosque in the case, which began in 2010, but a district judge found that the county government had failed to provide adequate public notice before the county’s Regional Planning Commission approved the congregation’s site plans. He said the county should have published its meeting agenda on its own website and public access channel.  But the state’s Court of Appeals upheld the notice, which appeared in a local community weekly newspaper. Public Notice Resource Center filed an amicus brief with the appellate court urging that the district judge’s opinion urging use of non-newspaper sources be set aside and that the county’s decision to use the local newspaper was reasonable.
Background – The Public Notice Resource Center

Citing Lack of Access, Minnesota City Declines to Move Notices Online
After a failed attempt this year by the League of Minnesota Cities to move public notices online, the organization is gearing up for another attempt to allow cities to designate their websites to publish public notices. A resolution to do that, though, was voted down on a split 4-4 decision at the April 21 Little Falls, Minn., City Council meeting, according to the Morrison County Record.

“It doesn’t say that this may be the only way of publication, but it would be potentially to publish certain notices on your website instead of, or in addition to, the official newspaper,” city administrator Dan Vogt said, opening the door that the city could continue publishing notices in a newspaper while also doing so on its website.

However, putting public notices online would likely lead to the eventual discarding of the newspaper, Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said, with residents who don’t have internet access left out.

“I would just like to say that – granted we can do both – but it’s a situation that then you just have the option of getting rid of the paper completely, which would be  really difficult for a lot of individuals in this area that don’t have computers,” VanRisseghem said. “If we went specifically to just website advertising, there are going to be a lot of people who are not going to get these notices.”
Little Falls not quite ready to make switch to online public notices – Morrison County Record, Little Falls, Minn. (4.25.2014)

Government Agencies See 26,000 ‘Cyber Security Incidents’ in 2013
A representative of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that cyber security “incidents” involving personally identifiable information (PII) increased 140% between 2009 and 2013 to 26,000 last year. “That is 71 per day,” writes  Andrew LaVanway in his MeriTalk blog.

“If you think it is bad, it’s actually worse than you think,” LaVanway writes. “Turns out that the harder we try, the worse we do. We spent $55 billion on IT security in 2011 and got 208 breaches. We spent roughly $64 billion last year and got 253. We’ve never had more cyber security professionals on watch – and we’ve never lost more data.”

Computer security – or the lack thereof – is merely one more reason public notices should remain in print, where they are independently published, archivable, accessible and verifiable. Based on the recent GAO testimony, they may also be more secure on a newspaper or state press association website.
Symantec, GAO and the Data Tracker – MeriTalk (4.9.2014)

Michigan County Puts Messages Online; Server Connection ‘Unavailable’
The Michigan Press Association reports that the Hillsdale County Commission ran the following notice in the Hillsdale Daily News: “Whereas Hillsdale County wishes to promote transparency of county government as well as provide for the best and lowest cost access to information regarding the county’s legislative body… Hillsdale County shall refrain from publishing in a publication of general circulation any meeting minutes, condensed minutes of the Board of Commissioners, meeting notices, available appointments to Boards or Commissions or any other item not specified for printed publication under State or Federal Statute.”

“Ironically after receiving a heads up about this, the MPA staff went to the Hillsdale Co. website to investigate and got the following alert: “Firefox can’t establish a connection to the server at www.co.hillsdale.mi.us. The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few moments.”

The MPA says that Hillsdale County’s actions are not unique: “Some municipalities have put the issue on the ballot and lost (City of Wayne, Trenton and Owosso), some have won partial victories (Ann Arbor and Novi). The state laws have not changed YET, but these movements are the beginning of something that could end in Lansing with legislation that would allow all public notices to run on local government sites only. MPA staff urges you to keep your eye on your local governments.
Hillsdale County moves to put notices online – Michigan Press Association Bulletin (4.17.2014)

Michigan Newspaper Reports on Public Notice
In a series of bylined stories by reporter Jim Kasuba, the News-Herald of Southgate, Mich., has reported on a local hospital’s problems remaining eligible to be part of the Medicare program. The source of the news story is a public notice published in the April 13 issue of the newspaper.

“The legal notice, published in Sunday’s editions of The News-Herald Newspapers, says the agreement with the hospital … and the secretary of U.S. Department Health and Human Services as a hospital in the Medicare program will be terminated,” wrote Kasuba, who then quoted the notice as saying: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has determined that Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital is not in compliance with the following Medicare condition of participation for a hospital: 42 CFR 482.13 Patient Rights.”

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring. American Court and Commercial Newspapers, in partnership with state newspaper associations, sponsor the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest; the 2013 contest was won by the Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic for a series of stories initiated by an alert reader who spotted a payment by a local school board in a public notice.

In 2014, participating state press associations will begin to make Public Notice Journalism Contest awards within their own existing newspaper awards programs. A national winner will be selected in 2015 from top state candidates.
Wyandotte hospital could lose rights to bill for Medicare services – The News-Herald, Southgate, Mich. (4.16.2014)
Wyandotte Hospital Medicare compliant; issue more complex than spilled hot coffee – The News-Herald, Southgate, Mich. (4.25.2014)
Public Notice Journalism Contest

N.C. Legislator Wins Press Association’s First Amendment Award
The North Carolina Press Association has awarded State Rep. Marilyn Avila its First Amendment Award, which honors a non-journalist who has stood up for open government.

Avila spoke several times on the House floor last year against bills that would allow public agencies to advertise meetings and hearings on their websites and not in newspapers, as is now required, reports John Drescher, executive editor of the News & Observer of Raleigh. “Local governments have complained about the cost of purchasing public notices. Avila supported a compromise that would cut the cost of repeat notices and require newspapers to post all public notices online.”

The matter was hotly debated, Drescher says, “reflecting the dislike some legislators have for the larger newspapers in the state. Avila urged legislators to set those feelings aside.”

“She said governments need to inform the public of meetings and that publication in newspapers and their websites was the best way to do that. Newspaper readership typically is five to 10 times that of local government websites. Many people, especially the elderly and those in rural areas, don’t have access to the internet, she said. Avila told House members that their vote ‘is going to tell the citizens of North Carolina how important you think they are as participants in their own government.’”

Todd Allen, owner and publisher of The Wake Weekly, nominated Avila for the award. Allen told Drescher that “the legislation she stopped would have strengthened the government’s power and control while decreasing the awareness of the public.”
Rep. Marilyn Avila, with courage, pushes for open government – News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C. (4.4.2014)

Colorado Town Elects to Publish Only Titles of Ordinances
Following an election in Yampa, Colo., the town has changed the way it publishes information about proposed town ordinances, the Steamboat Pilot & Today reports. “Instead of publishing the entire text of proposed ordinances in a legal notice in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the town now will publish only the ordinance title,” the newspaper says.

Colorado state law requires towns to publish proposed new ordinances in a local newspaper, but the law permits towns with home rule charters to publish ordinances by title only if voters approve that procedural change in a municipal election.

Prior to the vote, Yampa residents could read the entire text of proposed ordinances in the newspaper’s print and website editions, or they could find this information on a fully searchable state website where legal notices from across Colorado are published, the newspaper says. “Residents now will have to visit Yampa Town Hall and look through the town’s ordinance book to learn about proposed ordinances or, if motivated enough, they could access the information through the town’s new website, which is yet to be completed.”

Though city leaders said that the cost of legal publications was behind the change, the newspaper reports that in 2013, the city of Yampa spent $1,502.66 on ordinance publications, which is 3/10 of 1 percent of the city’s annual budget of $437,346. “The town still will be required to publish the title of proposed ordinances to notify residents that the ordinances are being considered, so the full amount will not be saved. Given this continued cost and the cost to build and maintain a website, we doubt the town will realize any savings at all.”
Our View: Less is not always more – Steamboat Pilot & Today, Steamboat Springs, Colo. (4.1.2014)

State Legislation

Just over half of states remain in Session in 2014. With 19 state legislatures adjourned and another 10 expected to finish during the month of May, the legislative activity is beginning to slow. However the finish line is not yet here, as the legislative session in North Carolina has yet to commence and several states still face threatening bills.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action since the last edition. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Definition of Newspaper
Louisiana:  SB 630 – Referred to Committee – define newspaper qualified to publish legal notices in two parishes

Foreclosure
Missouri:  HB 2282 – Introduced – Eliminate newspaper notice
Tennessee:  HB 1328 – Taken off Notice for Calendar/SB 1324 – Re-referred to Calendar – Permit notice on the Web

Forfeiture
Utah:  SB 256 – Signed by Governor – Add newspaper notice; Notice previously by personal service, certified mail & posting on the Utah Public Notice Website.

Government notices
Connecticut:  SB 40 – Favorable Report from Office of Legislative Research, Tabled for the Calendar – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website; Also permits free newspapers to publish notices
Illinois:  SB 3443 – Referred to Committee (previously Passed Senate) – Allows reports of tax assessments to be moved from a newspaper to the Department of Taxation website
Illinois:  HB 4531 – Referred to Committee – Move all notices to a government website
Indiana: HB 1266 – Signed by Governor – Proposal to move budget notices to the Department of Local Government Finance website.
Rhode Island:  S 2846 – Introduced – Eliminate newspaper notice of meetings to count ballots by mail
Tennessee:  HB 2544/SB 2642 – Introduced – Allow City to publish various legal notices on the city Website in lieu of newspaper notice

Notices move to radio
Tennessee: SB 1889 – Withdrawn – Introduced each year for the past several years, this proposal would move notices to radio so long as the notice is also posted on the radio website.

Post & publish
Ohio:
  HB 483 – Passed House

Requiring minimum archiving, search capability on statewide site
Florida:
  HB 781 – Pass Senate & Pass House/SB 834 – Tabled in Senate

Self-storage bills
These proposals are similar to bills introduced and passed last year that require publication or advertising in a “commercially reasonable manner” which is assumed if 3 independent bidders attend the sale.
{Amended – self-storage language removed from bill} Georgia:  SB 340 – Sent to Governor
Indiana:  HB 1385 – Signed by Governor
Illinois:  SB 2952 – Third Reading Deadline Established as May 1
{Amended – notice to remain in newspaper} Missouri:  HB 1225 – Public Hearing Held (previously Passed House)

UELMA
Colorado:  HB 1194 – Hearing Scheduled (previously Passed House)
Illinois:  SB 1941 – Hearing Scheduled (previously Passed Senate)
Massachusetts:  HB 38 – Hearing Scheduled
Pennsylvania:  SB 601 – Hearing Scheduled (carried over from 2013 Session)

Articles & Editorials

The Anchorage Daily News reports that rumors abound in Juneau that parts of a previously defeated bill – part of which curtailed public notice by state and local governments – could be resurrected.

House Bill 77, which also dealt with water rights and development permits, was killed earlier this legislative season, the newspaper says, but a draft bill would resurrect parts of the bill. “The draft’s immediate purpose is to help a Bible camp near Juneau work out a land deal with the state. Pieces of HB 77 would be attached to an already-passed Senate bill. That Senate bill makes it easier for businesses to purchase state land that they are leasing.”

The newspaper says that “strong and widespread public resistance killed HB 77. Lawmakers shouldn’t dig it up, especially when doing so triggers confusion and doubt about what adding parts of it to another bill will mean for both public notice and the terms of trade or purchase of public lands.”
Our View: Leave House Bill 77 in its grave – Anchorage Daily News (4.18.2014)
House Bill 77


April 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Daily Republic Publisher Receives First Public Notice Journalism Award
Seth Tupper, publisher of the Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic, received the first PNRC national Public Notice Journalism Award at the National Newspaper Association’s Leadership Summit in Washington on March 13. The newspaper won the award for a series inaugurated by an alert reader who spotted a payment by a local school board in a public notice. The reader’s tip to the newspaper led to a protracted open records lawsuit by the newspaper against the school district. The conclusion: the revelation of a $175,000 severance agreement with a former school superintendent that otherwise would not have reached the readers’ attention.

“This series is a terrific illustration of why it is important for governments to keep these notices where the public is likely to find them. The reader in this case helped to point to the story.  The reporting staff and their Freedom of Information lawsuit did the rest. We are honored to recognize this excellent series,” Tupper said.

The Public Notice Journalism award was established in 2013 by American Court and Commercial Newspapers in partnership with state newspaper associations. It is intended to encourage reporters and editors to incorporate public notices into their reporting and writing.

In 2014, participating state press associations will begin to make Public Notice Journalism Contest awards within their own existing newspaper awards programs. A national winner will be selected in 2015 from top state candidates.

A photo of Tupper and PNRC President Bradley L. Thompson II, chairman and CEO of the Detroit Legal News, as well as the winning series, are online at PNRC’s website. A column about the award – and CBS News Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer’s remarks about the newspaper’s work, appears here.

Washington Paper Says Outlook for “Sunshine Week” is Cloudy
A newspaper in Olympia, Wash., has decried the state legislature’s failure to make state government more open and accessible to the public, including a proposed measure to improve public notice requirements for committee hearings on the bills.

“Legislators failed to pass a measure to improve public notice requirements for committee hearings on bills. Many times during the 2014 session, committees held public hearings late at night and with little notice,” The Olympian wrote in an opinion column. “It’s no surprise that these hearings elicited little if any public participation. But that was probably the point.”

The newspaper also noted that lawmakers are often called to vote “on bills handed to them with just hours or minutes before final passage,” asking, rhetorically, how many legislators read the 2014 supplemental budget during the six hours provided to them before voting.

“Of course, it would take more time to give adequate public notice of hearings, and to give legislators sufficient time to read bills before final passage,” the newspaper wrote. “That might mean a bit more overtime for legislative sessions. We think public participation and open government are worth the extra time and expense.”
Open government forecast: Cloudy for Sunshine Week – The Olympian, Olympia, Wash. (3.18.2014)

N.M., Va., Newspapers Report on Public Notices
A bylined story in the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times has reported on a public notice of an April 23 hearing scheduled by the state’s Environment Department for a discharge permit application for a proposed sewage lagoon and RV park in northwestern New Mexico.

“According to a public notice, which was posted on the Environment Department’s website and published in The Daily Times on Friday [March 21], the hearing could, at the hearing officer’s discretion, be continued to the following day, April 24.”

As part of his reporting, reporter James Fenton also quoted from the public notice that “all interested persons will be given a reasonable opportunity at the public hearing to submit relevant evidence, data, views or arguments orally or in writing, and to examine persons who testify at the hearing.”

Meanwhile, a couple in southern Virginia is suing the Kroger grocery store chain and the city of Colonial Heights, alleging that the city didn’t provide appropriate public notice for input on its working agreement with Kroger. The lawsuit also states that the city amended its comprehensive plan and changed the zoning to allow the 90,000-square-foot-plus grocery store to be built close to residential areas; the plaintiffs allege that their property would be impacted by increased traffic, as well as light and noise pollution, and parking lot runoff, reporter Leah Small writes in The Progress-Index of Petersburg, Va.

To prove that the city went ahead with plans before public input, the plaintiffs reference public hearing dates and a press release issued by the city, the newspaper reported.

“The city issued a press release and held a press conference with Kroger officials on Sept. 6, 2013, announcing the proposal to redevelop the site, which was the first time many residents heard about the plan despite the fact that notices to attend a public hearing on the redevelopment ran in The Progress-Index on Aug. 31 and Sept. 6. The public hearing was scheduled for Sept. 10.

More than a dozen people spoke against the project at the public hearing, including one of the plaintiffs. After the hearing, council unanimously approved entering negotiations to sell the property to Kroger for $2.6 million.

City attorney Hugh Fisher told the newspaper that the city gave more public notice than required and that the allegations were without merit.
Second public meeting scheduled over proposed sewage lagoon – The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M. (3.23.2014)
Residents sue city and Kroger – The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va. (3.24.2014)

PNRC applauds newspapers which, when reporting on important issues to their community, refer to the public notices carried in their own pages. That is one way readers can become familiar with the useful information routinely found in notices.  Stories which do so are eligible to win both state and national prizes in the 2014 Public Notice Journalism Contest.

Conn. Paper Publishes Op-ed to “Modernize” Public Notice
Nobody can say the Hartford Courant doesn’t allow conflicting opinions: the newspaper has published an op-ed from a selectman and member of the Connecticut Conference on Municipalities urging legislators to “modernize” the state’s public notice laws.

“In 2014, Connecticut’s towns are still forced to pay to post legal notices in obscure pages of printed newspapers,” selectman Leo Paul wrote. “Posting them online often doesn’t count.”

While Paul is quick to trot out the old chestnut that public notices are expensive – he says various Connecticut towns and cities pay “$16,000 … $88,000 … and $40,000” annually to print public notices in newspapers, but doesn’t note that the costs are often much lower – he also says that public notice mandate “suppresses local governments’ visibility.”

This is the first time we’ve heard the argument that printing public notices in newspapers makes government less visible.

“If the municipalities are up to providing perpetual archiving, authentication and accessibility to those who don’t use computers – and to deal with the inevitable litigation when they fail – their websites could be ready to replace print,” says Tonda Rush, co-director of the Public Notice Resource Center. “But few are, and legislators are ignoring the fact that the digital space is not yet mature enough to replace a printed, endurable, accessible record. Like open records fulfillment, public notice in an independent medium is one of the prices we all pay for transparency.”
Modernize Towns’ Legal Notice Postings – The Hartford Courant (3.10.2014)
Eliminating legal notices will cost more than it saves – The Bristol Press (3.8.2014)

State Legislation

Ten states have adjourned for the 2014 legislative Session. However, many bills are still moving in the states that remain active, and the North Carolina legislature has yet to convene.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action since the last edition.

For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Corporations
Arizona: HB 2554 – Failed House – Remove requirement of corporate notices in newspaper

Foreclosure
Tennessee:  HB 1328 – Hearing Scheduled/SB 1324 – Passed Committee

Forfeiture
Utah: SB 256 – Sent to Governor – Add newspaper notice; Notice previously by personal service, certified mail & posting on the Utah Public Notice Website.

Government notices
Connecticut: SB 40 – Filed with Legislative Commissioner’s Office – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website; Also permits free newspapers to publish notices

Connecticut: SB 94 – Referred to Committee – Permits municipalities to move notices to their website

Illinois: HB 4531 – Referred to Committee – Move all notices to a government website

Maryland: SB 397 – Failed Committee/HB 1261 – Withdrawn – Proposal would allow municipal and county notices to move to the web.

Massachusetts: HB 1586 – Extension Order Filed – Move government notices to the Web

Pennsylvania: HB 2118 – Referred to Committee – Move local government notices to the Web

Requiring minimum archiving, search capability on statewide site
Florida: HB 781 – In Committee/SB 834 – Hearing Scheduled

Post & publish 
Colorado:
 HB 1086 – Signed by Governor – Similar to the Tennessee bill passed last year, this bill would require newspapers to publish the notice in print and then post the notice on a centralized website maintained by a majority of newspapers.

Ohio: HB 472 – Substitute Bill is Accepted/HB 483 – Referred to Committee

Self-storage bills
California:
  AB 2331 – Hearing Postponed by Committee – Move notices to the Web

Massachusetts: HB 326 – Accompanied Study Order – Notice by email and Web

South Carolina: H 3563 – Signed by Governor – Notice of default by email; newspaper notice remains in place

These proposals are similar to bills introduced and passed last year that require publication or advertising in a “commercially reasonable manner” which is assumed if 3 independent bidders attend the sale.

Alabama: HB 421 – Passed Committee (previously Passed House)

Georgia: SB 340 – Passed House (previously Passed Senate)

Indiana: HB 1385 – Signed by President of the Senate

Illinois: SB 2952 – Passed Committee

{Amended – notice to remain in newspaper} Kentucky:  SB 150 – Delivered to Governor

{Amended – notice to remain in newspaper} Minnesota: HF 2598 – Passed Committee/SF 2398 – Hearing Scheduled

Missouri: HB 1225 – Passed House

Study of Public Notices
Hawaii: HCR2014 72/HR2014 49 – Passed Committee – Comparative legal study

UELMA
Idaho: SB 1356 – Signed by Governor

Illinois: SB 1941 – Referred to Committee (previously Passed Senate)

Massachusetts: HB 38 – Extension Order Filed

Rhode Island: H 7604 – Withdrawn by Sponsor


Articles & Editorials

A New Hampshire newspaper has come out in support of state House Bill 1591, a bill which has been transformed in committee from one which would created a commission to hear and adjudicate “right to know” disputes to one that would change the notice requirements that state and local governments have to follow before holding a meeting.

Currently, the Nashua Telegraph notes, the law requires just 24 hours notice for a school or town board to hold a legal meeting. HB 1591 would require 72 hours notice and that an agenda be posted with the notice.

“Lobbyists for cities and towns would have you believe that the extra two days notice and the agenda requirement would cripple local government operations,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial. “It won’t. In fact, most boards probably give the public 72 hours notice already, and even if they don’t, neither the extended notice nor the agenda requirement seem especially burdensome to us.”
A Sunshine Week bill that should pass – Nashua Telegraph (3.19.2014)

An editorial in the Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle says that the reason legislatures continue to propose bills that would remove public notices from newspapers is that “some in government simply don’t want to be held accountable in the way that public notices published in the local newspaper make them accountable. Some want to control both the message and the medium.”

While noting that public notice is critical to all kinds of public business, the newspaper says that politicians who complain about the cost of printed public notices are off base: “the cost of such notices averages less than one-half of 1 percent of overall spending” by municipal and state governments.

“Yes, newspapers make money from public notices,” the editorial says, “but those notices play a critical role in doing public business and are well worth the relatively small cost to taxpayers. Citizens know where to find such notices in the paper, they don’t need a computer to get access (or even a subscription – just go to the library) and they don’t need to know which web page is which or where to find that page.”
Editorial: Public notices are effective – Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle (3.16.2014)


March 12, 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC Names First National Public Notice Journalism Award Winner
The Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic has been named the first recipient of the PNRC’s national Public Notice Journalism Award for 2014. The newspaper is recognized for a series inaugurated by an alert reader who spotted a payment by a local school board in a public notice. The reader’s tip to the newspaper led to a protracted open records lawsuit by the newspaper against the school district. The conclusion: the revelation of a $175,000 severance agreement with a former school superintendent that otherwise would not have reached the readers’ attention.

The award will be presented March 13 at the National Press Club. Republic editor Seth Tupper will receive the award on behalf of the newspaper.

PNRC President Bradley L. Thompson II, chairman and CEO of the Detroit Legal News, said the revelation of a secret, sealed agreement between the public body and its former employee was the type of public business that might have been swept aside if not for the public notice.

“(The series) all started with the reader who saw the payment in the legals and called us with the tip. Without those legals, I don’t believe anyone outside of the school district board and administration would ever have known about the amount or nature of the $175,000 agreement between the school district and the ex-superintendent,” Tupper said.

Thompson said the Republic’s reporting demonstrated why Americans need robust and viable public notice.

“This series is a terrific illustration of why it is important for governments to keep these notices where the public is likely to find them. The reader in this case helped to point to the story.  The reporting staff and their Freedom of Information lawsuit did the rest. We are honored to recognize this excellent series,” he said.

More details – and the award-winning stories – are available on the PNRC website.

Small-town Residents Depend on Community Newspapers
Two-thirds of residents in small towns across America depend upon their local newspaper for news and information, according to the National Newspaper Association’s most recent newspaper readership survey.

The survey noted that more readers are using mobile devices to shop, read and communicate. The number with smartphones jumped from 24% to 45%, and 39% said they used the phones to access local news.

Newspaper websites remained the leading provider of local news, followed distantly by a local TV station’s site and then by national aggregators, such as Google and Yahoo.

Striking was the finding that nearly one-third of households still do not have Internet access at home. The finding parallels similar conclusions from the U.S. Census Bureau and others that continue to report slow growth in Internet penetration across smaller, and particularly rural communities.

Local readers also like to share their newspaper with others. The “pass-along rate” of the primary subscriber’s sharing with others rose in 2013 to 2.48, compared to 2.18 in 2012 and 2.33 in 2011.
NNA Press Release, including a link to the study for NNA members – National Newspaper Association (02.03.2014)
Executive Summary – National Newspaper Association (02.03.2014)

N.C. Legislator Speaks in Favor of Public Notices
North Carolina state Rep. Chris Malone told members of the North Carolina Press Association that he thinks preserving the current public notice rules transcend politics.

“You are the guardians of public speech. It’s not just a business,” he said, speaking at a Feb. 27 legislative briefing in Chapel Hill. “We’ve got to tell people what’s going on – notifications are part of that.”

Malone spoke of the proposal he helped defeat in the Statehouse last year that would have abolished the requirement of municipalities to publish public notices in newspapers. Prominent supporters, including the Speaker of the House, argued that such notices are no longer a good use of taxpayer money in a technological age that allows municipalities to inform the public using their own websites. Malone said the bill could come up again over the next year or two and urged publishers to be proactive in making the case against it to legislators.

The legislator also alleged that many of his fellow GOP colleagues’ support for the bill is motivated by bitter feelings towards the press as much as it is the goal of saving taxpayers money, according to a story in the Asheville Mountain XPress.
Legislator briefs NC Press Association on public notices – Mountain Xpress, Asheville, N.C. (2.27.2014)

Hawaii Asks Whether Newspaper Notices Online Should be Free
Two resolutions directing Hawaii’s Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) to conduct a study of states concerning the costs and methods of publicizing legal notices have been referred to committee in the state’s House of Representatives.

The resolution notes that advertising rates for the state and government agencies increased following the 2010 purchase of the Honolulu Advertiser by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and directs the LRB to study the costs involved in other media, including the “internet, radio and television,” compare the public notice costs and methods used in other states and “review cost-saving strategies” concerning public notices prior to the start of the 2015 legislative session.

Of more concern is a line in the resolutions declaring that “technology has allowed over 100 Pennsylvania newspapers to currently post their printed public notices on the internet at no cost to the local government.” While state press associations and newspapers do typically aggregate public notices online, it’s not done without cost to state and local governments, who typically pay a rate for printed advertising which includes the cost of online publication. Newspaper associations elsewhere are also beginning to see legislators who want the “free” part of the print-plus-online combination without the paid part.

The resolutions can be read here and here.

Colorado Town to Vote on Pulling Notices from Newspapers
The Buena Vista, Colo., Board of Trustees has placed an item on the town’s April ballot to cease running public notices in The Chaffee County Times, the newspaper reports. The newspaper says that the ballot measure has been promoted as a way for the town to save money, running only titles and summaries with a reference to the town’s website archive.

An editorial published by the newspaper notes that from 2009 to 2013, the town spent an average $3,790 per year on public notices – which amounts to just .0004 percent of the town’s 2014 budget of $8.8 million. The newspaper said that most public notice invoices have been between $20 and $50, though the board focused on a single $912 invoice to publish a lengthy ordinance.
Times editorial: Legal notices must be public – The Chaffee County Times, Buena Vista, Colo. (2.26.2014)

Connecticut Speaker Behind Effort to Shorten Printed Notices
Municipal government officials and state legislators in Connecticut are pushing for a change to a state law which requires towns to place public notices in local newspapers to alert the public about government meetings and actions. Officials and legislators claim that the legal requirement should be repealed because towns can provide adequate notice through postings on their internet sites.

“The claim is ridiculous, for while local newspapers have large and measurable audiences, municipal internet sites do not,” says the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Conn., in an editorial.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is asking the state to allow towns to push summaries of the traditional notices with instructions for how to obtain the full document on the town’s website. The idea is to reduce the amount of newspaper space towns must purchase, while preserving the notification for newspaper readers, says a story on CT News Junkie. In past years, similar legislation has failed to pass the General Assembly, but this year, the municipal governments have the support of state House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.

“It seems like a reasonable compromise,” Sharkey said in late February, “without imposing a huge cost on cities and towns.”

It is unclear whether the House speaker’s support will be enough to push the perennial issue over the legislative finish line during this year’s session.
Sharkey Gives Municipalities a Boost by Supporting Legal Notices Bill – CT News Junkie (2.26.2014)
Eliminating legal notices will cost more than it saves – Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn. (3.3.2014)

Update: Minnesota Senate Sets Aside Public Notice Bill
The Minnesota Senate State and Local Government Committee has essentially set aside a bill that would allow local governments to move public notices out of newspapers and to post them only on local websites. The Morrison County Record reports that while the bill may be brought up again, opponents said the bill was aside without a vote because not enough committee members were in favor.

The bill, which was pushed by the Association of Minnesota Counties and the League of Minnesota Cities, is not expected to be heard in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Senate committee sets aside public notice bill – Morrison County Record, Little Falls, Minn. (2.27.2014)

State Legislation

Only two states, Louisiana and North Carolina, remain to officially open their 2014 legislative sessions.  With the previous adjournment of New Mexico and an additional 10 states scheduled to adjourn in March, we expect a busy month ahead.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action in the last two weeks. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at: http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Corporations
Arizona:  HB 2554 – Passed Committee – Remove requirement of corporate notices in newspaper

Definition of Newspaper
Louisiana: HB 699 – Referred to Committee – Removes the requirements for a newspaper to carry legal notices that general circulation papers be paid and that a newspaper must possess a valid periodical permit

Tennessee: HB 2379/SB 2344 – Hearing Scheduled – A bill to define “newspaper of general circulation”

Forfeiture
Utah:  SB 256 – Referred to Committee – Add newspaper notice; Notice previously by personal service, certified mail & posting on the Utah Public Notice Website.

General
Louisiana:  HB 806 – Referred to Committee – Create “official journal of state” which will move all notices to a statewide website.

Rhode Island:  H 7133 – Hearing Scheduled – A proposal buried in a 245 page appropriations bill, would move all legal notices to the Web.

Government notices
Alabama:  HB 71 – Passed Committee (previously Passed House) – Moves voter registration lists from the newspaper to a website.

Alaska:  HB 275 – Returned to Committee – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website.

Connecticut:  SB 40 – Hearing Scheduled – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website; Also permits free newspapers to publish notices

Connecticut:  SB 94 – Hearing Scheduled – Permits municipalities to move notices to their website

Illinois:  HB 4531 – Hearing Scheduled – Move all notices to a government website

Louisiana:  HB 725 – Permits moving parish, municipal and school notices to Web

Maryland:  SB 397 – Failed Committee/HB 1261 – Hearing Scheduled – Proposal would allow municipal and county notices to move to the web.

Minnesota:  SF 1152 – Hearing Scheduled/HF 1286 – Referred to Committee – Bill that has carried over from 2013 to move municipal notices to a government site.

Post & publish
Colorado:  HB 1086 – Sent to Governor – Similar to the Tennessee bill passed last year, this bill would require newspapers to publish the notice in print and then post the notice on a centralized website maintained by a majority of newspapers.

Self-storage bills
California:  AB 2331 – Introduced – Move notices to the Web

Rhode Island:  S 2371 – Held for Further Study – Removes the newspaper notice required by an owner of the storage space to the occupant.

These proposals are similar to bills introduced and passed last year that require publication or advertising in a “commercially reasonable manner” which is assumed if 3 independent bidders attend the sale.
Indiana:  HB 1385 – Passed Committee (previously Passed House)

Illinois:  SB 2952 – Placed on Calendar

Kentucky:  SB 150 – Referred to Committee

Missouri:  HB 1225 – Passed Committee

UELMA
Colorado:  HB 1194 – Referred to Committee (previously Passed House)

Idaho:  SB 1356 – Referred to Committee

Illinois:  SB 1941 – Hearing Scheduled

Rhode Island:  H 7604 – Referred to Committee

Articles & Editorials

Websites hosted on servers running Windows XP – including those of state and local governments – will be left open to “exploits and compromise” when Microsoft discontinues support for the operating system in April. “With respect to technology risks, the most common and well-known issue is that patches to mitigate known vulnerabilities will no longer be provided,” says a white paper studying the risks of continued use of Windows XP. “Unlike new versions of Windows where security patches are generally delivered within a day of exposure, following Windows XP’s [end of life] date this will not be the case.”

The white paper also states that “Windows XP has such substantial design vulnerabilities that it puts an entire organization and its data at risk.”
Windows XP: A Compliance and Risk Nightmare in April 2014 – Lenovo/Intel White Paper (7.2013)
Microsoft urges businesses on Windows XP to migrate – ComputerWeekly.com, London (2.27.2014)
Will XP Be Attacked in April 2014 – Slaw, Canada’s online legal magazine (2.5.2014)
XP’s retirement will be hacker heaven – Computerworld (8.12.2013)

Arizona newspaper publishers are working to defeat House Bill 2554, which would take  public notice filings about corporate and limited-liability company filings out of print and place them online only through a new database by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).

Arizona law already requires detailed filings to be published in a newspaper as part of a permanent record.

The Prescott Daily Courier writes that businesses would have to pay an additional fee and that the ACC would get more money – about $65,000 – to create the website and data storage to make this happen. “That, by the way, would be on top of the $250,000 in taxpayer money the ACC has received for a website that has never actually worked as intended,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “The notices would be online for only 90 days through the ACC, as opposed to permanently available through the [Arizona Newspaper Association] website, the printed newspapers, and their online archives.”
Editorial: Public notice bill is anti-transparency – The Daily Courier, Prescott, Ariz. (2.23.2014)
Editorial: No need to reinvent the wheel on legal notice requirements – The Bugle, Camp Verde, Ariz. (2.25.2014)
Don’t make public notices less public – Chino Valley (Ariz.) Review (2.26.2014)


February 19, 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Sponsor Removes Alaska Online Notices Bill from House Calendar
A bill aimed at moving certain municipal public notices to local government websites has been removed from the Alaska House of Representatives calendar and sent to the House Rules Committee at the sponsor’s request.

“I wasn’t going to put my members in the position of having to vote on a matter that I have heard from so many of them was going to cause them problems with their local newspapers,” Rep. Mike Hawker told the Associated Press in an interview. The AP reported that the House Rules Committee is where bills sometimes go for additional work or until there is sufficient support for them to pass.

At first, the bill received little notice and moved quickly through the legislative process, taking barely two weeks to reach the House floor, garnering bipartisan support along the way. By yesterday, it had been called a danger to local communities, their newspapers, and the public’s right to know by critics.

A story in the Alaska Dispatch suggests that some of the late attention on the bill came about after a Juneau newspaper publisher asked his Capitol reporter to set up appointments with legislators to lobby against the bill, and then later fired her after she refused to do so. The publisher told Juneau radio station KTOO that firing the reporter was unrelated to her refusal to set up appointments on his behalf.

“The attention to the Juneau Empire’s ethical rift subsequently drew attention to the bill, and several legislators said they heard from local newspaper publishers, who were concerned about the possible loss of revenue and community notifications that passage of the bill might entail,” Dispatch reporter Pat Forgey wrote.
Controversy, local cost stall bill to move Alaska public notices online – Alaska Dispatch, Anchorage (2.18.2014)
Public notices bill yanked by Anchorage House sponsor – Anchorage Daily News (2.18.2014)

Scammers Abound with email, Snail Mail
Dangers for unsuspecting internet users continue, according to a post on the Federal Trade Commission’s blog, which reports that scam are sending bogus emails with the subject line “funeral notification.” The message appears to be from a legitimate funeral home, offers condolences, and invites you to click on a link for more information about the upcoming “celebration of your friend’s life service.” But instead of sending you to the funeral home’s website, the link sends you to a foreign domain where the scammers download malware to your computer.

Now it appears the plague has invaded the public notice world. Sarasota Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyons has written of a snail mail scam in his city, where readers have reported receiving what appears to be a public notice from a government agency regarding their water quality.

The mailer gives many the impression it was sent by the county utilities department, Lyons writes. The mailer – or so victims are led to believe – is an “Important Water Quality Notice” sent by the “the Water Plant.” It informs recipients that “The Water Plant will be in the area testing your water,” at no charge, because of possible pollution. It gives a phone number to call to arrange for testers to come by at a convenient time. It urges this be done very soon.

“Well, don’t,” Lyons writes. “There’s no chemical spill or similar issue in your neighborhood. But while the mailed notice is tricky, it technically doesn’t lie, I guess. ‘Water Plant’ is not an official name for any government utility, and sneaky fast-talkers who use the name aren’t necessarily posing as working for one, arguably. The Water Plant name may invite us to think it came from the people responsible for sending us our water, but the mailer never quite says so.”

Lyons expects that anyone who contacts “the Water Plant” will soon be visited by “someone [who does] some sort of water test, or pretend to. The residents will then be told they much need an expensive water filtration system, or something of that sort.”

Public notices, when published in newspapers, are easily verifiable, which helps protect the public from untrustworthy parties, whether they use the internet or the postman to spread their scams.
Fake funeral notice can be deadly – for your computer – Federal Trade Commission (2.12.2014)
Lyons: Scams arrive the old-fashioned way – Sarasota Herald-Tribune (2.8.2014)

States, Local Governments Not Ready for Increased IT Demand
A recent report released by MeriTalk says that most state and local governments intend to implement IT’s so-called “Big Five” – data center consolidation, mobility, security, big data, and cloud computing – but that among surveyed state and local IT professionals, almost all (94%) say their agency is not fully prepared for the resulting demands on the IT organization.

As demand for infrastructure rapidly outstrips the supply, capacity isn’t all that will suffer, the report says. Respondents also report that as a result of the infrastructure imbalance created by unsynchronized Big Five adoption, their agency will face security risks (59%), bandwidth limitations (55%), storage limitations (44%), and network latency (40%).
Big Five in Overdrive: Are State and Local Networks Ready? – MeriTalk (2.10.2014)

Minnesota Counties Support Online Notice Bills
The Winona County (Minn.) Board of Commissioners has voted to support two bills working their way through the Minnesota Legislature that would allow counties to post their public notices on county websites rather than in the local newspaper, the Winona Daily News reports.

The resolution, approved on February 4, was suggested and written by the Association of Minnesota Counties. The county board approved it unanimously and unchanged without discussion, the newspaper reports. The two bills, HF 1286 and SF 1152, allow counties to have the option to publicize “projects, proceedings, official notices, and summaries” on their websites “in place of or in addition to” printing them in newspapers.

The Morrison County (Minn.) Board passed a similar resolution on the same day. Similar resolutions have been proposed across the state. Publishers report that some county commissioners who doubt the viability of the Internet as a public notice avenue are supporting the resolutions anyway because they appear to enhance the public bodies’ powers to choose or not choose newspaper publication.

Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson told the Daily News that similar bills have been introduced to the Legislature and have failed. “And the reason it failed is because it’s not a good idea,” Anfinson said. “Dramatically fewer people would see (public notices) if they were on a county website. You bury them on a government website, people just don’t go find them.”
Winona County supports option for publishing public notices on county website – Winona (Minn.) Daily News (2.4.2014)
County backs move to remove public notices from newspapers – Morrison County Record, Little Falls, Minn. (2.7.2014)
Our View: Let the public take notice – Winona (Minn.) Daily News (2.9.2014)

At the same time, newspapers across the state of Minnesota used the power of the press to speak out against the two bills with pro-public notice editorials. A sampling of those published in February are below.
Public notices keep every citizen informed – Fairmont Sentinel (2.13.2014)
Our viewpoint: Place public notices where most citizens want to see them – Stillwater Gazette (2.10.2014)
Keep public notices public, noticeable – New Ulm Journal (2.12.2014)
Change in public notice ill advised – Brainerd Dispatch (2.14.2014)

Virginia Senate Committee Kills Public Notice Bill
A Virginia state Senate bill that would have taken public notices out of newspapers was defeated on February 4 in the Senate Committee on Local Government, according to the Virginia Press Association. The committee voted 12-3 to “pass by indefinitely” Sen. Ralph K. Smith’s SB 472, which would have given localities the option to advertise legal notices on their website or on radio and television stations.

Smith said his bill would “remove the unfunded mandate on localities that they publish legal notices only in newspapers.” Sen. David W. Marsden countered that it would be beneficial to keep notices in one place where the public can count on finding them and that should “be the local newspaper.”

This is the second public notice bill defeated during the 2014 General Assembly session. There are currently no more bills attempting to take legal notices out of newspapers.
Public notice bill dies in Senate committee – Virginia Press Association (2.4.2014)

State Legislation

The 2014 Legislative session is already a lively year for public notice legislation. See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills we are currently tracking.  For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Corporations
Arizona:  HB 2554 – Passed Committee – Remove requirement of corporate notices in newspaper

Definition of Newspaper
California:  AB 642 – Referred to Committee – A bill that would permit a newspaper that is available on a web site to qualify as a newspaper of general circulation for the purpose of publishing public notices.
Tennessee: HB 2379/SB 2344 – Referred to Committee – A bill to define “newspaper of general circulation”

General
Rhode Island:  H 7133 – Hearings Scheduled – A proposal buried in a 245 page appropriations bill, would move all legal notices to the Web.

Government notices
Alabama:  HB 71 – Passed Committee – Moves voter registration lists from the newspaper to a website.
Alaska:  HB 275 – Passed Committee – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website.
Connecticut:  SB 40 – Hearing Scheduled – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website; Also permits free newspapers to publish notices
Connecticut:  SB 94 – Hearing Scheduled – Permits municipalities to move notices to their website
Illinois:  HB 4531 – Referred to Committee – Move all notices to a government website
Illinois:  SB 3443 – Referred to Committee – Allows reports of tax assessments to be moved from a newspaper to the Department of Taxation website
Maryland:  SB 397 – Failed Committee/HB 1261 – Hearing Scheduled – Proposal would allow municipal and county notices to move to the web.
Mississippi:  HB 630 – Died in Committee – If the population is over 100,000, municipalities permitted to move their notices to the web if also posted in two forms of social media.
Minnesota:  SF 1152 – Hearing Scheduled/HF 1286 – Referred to Committee – Bill that has carried over from 2013 to move municipal notices to a government site.
New Jersey:  A 2399 – Referred to Committee – Permits electronic bidding instead of newspaper notice under local contracts law
Tennessee:  SB 2426 – Referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web, post or publish

Notices move to radio
Virginia:  SB 472/HB 95 – Killed in Committee – Bills that would have allowed a locality to post notices on the Internet, on radio or on television in lieu of publishing in a newspaper.

Post & publish
Colorado:  HB 1086 – Passed House – Similar to the Tennessee bill passed last year, this bill would require newspapers to publish the notice in print and then post the notice on a centralized website maintained by a majority of newspapers.
Florida:  HB 781/SB 834 – Referred to Committee – Proposal that mandates if a legal notice is published in a newspaper, no additional fee may be charged for viewing or searching for the notice in the online edition of the same newspaper.

Self-storage bills
Rhode Island:  S 2371 – Referred to Committee – Removes the newspaper notice required by an owner of the storage space to the occupant.

These proposals are similar to bills introduced and passed last year that require publication or advertising in a “commercially reasonable manner” which is assumed if 3 independent bidders attend the sale.
Alabama:  HB 421 – Passed Committee
Indiana:  HB 1385 – Passed House
Illinois:  SB 2952 – Referred to Committee
Missouri:  HB 1225 – Passed Committee

UELMA
Colorado:  HB 1194 – Referred to Committee

Articles & Editorials

Mississippi’s Commission on Marine Resources met in a special meeting February 13 after notifying the public by putting a notice on the door of the Bolton Building in Biloxi four hours before the noon session, the Sun Herald of Biloxi reported. Department of Marine Resources executive director Jamie Miller called the meeting a “workshop” to update commission members on the agency.

Normally, the newspaper reported, DMR sends an agenda to a mailing list of media a couple days before its meetings. Miller said he didn’t have a problem with the shorter notice because “no actions are taken.”

“I don’t mind the public being here,” he said when asked if he didn’t want the public at the meeting. “We don’t have a public comments section … but certainly we don’t mind the public being here.”

State Sen. Brice Wiggins, who wrote the Marine Resources Accountability and Reorganization Act that’s awaiting House action, said he would hope the DMR would not only follow the Open Meetings law but also would give the public as much notice as possible.

Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act requires agencies to post notice of a special meeting at least an hour before the meeting in a building where the body normally meets.
DMR posts notice four hours ahead of special meeting in Biloxi – Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss. (2.13.2014)

Following a multiple day outage of the Voluntown, Conn., town website, the Norwich Bulletin has spoken out against efforts in the Connecticut legislature to allow municipalities to post public notices on municipal websites rather than in newspapers. “The Voluntown municipal web site was off-line for at least two days this week. We’re not sure exactly when it went down, but by Wednesday morning it was up and operating,” the February 13 editorial said.

“As we witnessed this week, web pages are not always reliable. But in the more than 200 years of The Bulletin, we’re not aware of any day when we didn’t publish a newspaper,” the editorial said.
Our View: Legal notice policy serves the public – Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin (2.13.2014)


February 1, 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Consumers Trust Print Advertising More than Online
Consumers trust newspaper advertising over online advertising, finds a recent report by the Nielsen Company.

The report, Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages, found that trust in traditional advertising is among the most trusted form of paid advertising. The survey was conducted in early 2013 and polled 29,000 internet respondents from across the globe.

As newspapers face renewed efforts in 2014 to pull public notices from newspapers onto the Web, it is crucial for legislators to understand the importance of newspapers as a trusted source of content for consumers.

Of particular note regarding newspapers in the report, 67% of respondents trust editorial content such as newspaper articles and 61% of those polled trust ads in newspapers. Conversely, only 42% of respondents trust online banner ads.

The survey also polled consumers about how much action they take based on an advertisement. The results here found that 65% take action from an ad in a newspaper. Only 50%  say they take action from an online banner ad.
Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages – Nielsen (9.2013)

Murfreesboro Mosque Plaintiffs Seek U.S. Supreme Court Appeal
The plaintiffs who sued Rutherford County, Tenn., in 2011 alleging the county did not provide adequate public notice prior to its approval of plans for construction of a mosque have appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the plaintiffs won their case in a state court, a federal court overturned the decision and allowed the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to move into its building.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon Jr. told the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro that he is confident the court will decide to hear the lawsuit because a U.S. District Court in Nashville violated the top court’s rule for lower federal courts to stay out of cases that are still being reviewed at the state level.

PNRC’s previous coverage of Fisher v. Rutherford County can be found here.
Update: Lawsuit filed by Mosque foes who seek high court review – Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tenn. (1.29.2014)

Senate Studies Cybersecurity After Zombie Alert
A report issued by the Republican staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee says that federal agencies are ill-prepared to defend networks against even modestly skilled hackers. The study came on the heels of an Emergency Alert System message broadcast last year in several states warning of imminent zombie attacks: “Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. . . . Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies, as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

The report draws on previous work by agency inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office to paint a broader picture of chronic dysfunction, citing repeated failures by federal officials to perform what the Washington Post calls “the unglamorous work of information security [including] installing security patches, updating anti-virus software, communicating on secure networks and requiring strong passwords.”

A common password on federal systems, the report found, is “password.”

While the report focuses on federal cybersecurity, the state and local officials who might some day be in charge of maintaining a government-run public notice website may be just as reluctant to perform that “unglamorous work of information security.”
Senate cybersecurity report finds agencies often fail to take basic preventive measures – Washington Post (2.4.2014)
The Federal Government’s Track Record on Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure – Minority Staff of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (2.4.2014)

Alaska Ordinance “Little Better than no Rules at All”
A former borough planning official in Matanuska-Susitna, Alaska, calls a long-awaited draft ordinance crafting new rules for “tall” towers a flawed process, and says that it’s little better than no rules at all. The new ordinance requires little of tower developers beyond notifying people living nearby two months before construction starts, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

The issue of regulating tall structures – anything over 100 feet, with some exceptions such as power lines or ham radio towers – has a sense of urgency in the area, the paper says. The borough’s Tall Tower Advisory Committee formed in 2012 after the Mat-Su Assembly stripped all tower regulations the year before.

The four-man committee unanimously approved a draft ordinance that requires only that a tower developer notify the borough planning department, the nearby community council and people who live within 600 feet of a proposed tower 60 days before construction starts and then meet with neighbors 30 days before.

“This process is flawed,” former Mat-Su planner Murph O’Brien wrote in an email to planner Alex Strawn. “The recommendations serve no one but the industry.”
“Public notice isn’t necessarily a public process,” he told the newspaper. “When you’re 60 days out from construction, the lease has been let, the steel has been ordered, the design has been completed, so it’s just basically letting people know that they’re coming to the neighborhood.”
Proposed Mat-Su tower ordinance would require only public notice – Anchorage Daily News (1.10.2014)

Tennessee Celebrates Public Notice Week
As Tennessee newspapers celebrated Public Notice Week Jan. 19-25, The Tennessean appealed to its readers to “remember who the public is in ‘public notice.’”

The proven, most effective way to communicate important matters to the community has always been through news media, the newspaper wrote. “[The Founding Fathers] understood that if the flow of information is controlled by the government, citizens could only be assured of hearing what the government in charge at that moment wanted them to hear,” the editorial said.
Editorial: Public notices need to be available to the public – The Tennessean, Nashville (1.20.2014)
Viewpoint: A reason to celebrate Public Notice Week – Cleveland (Tenn.) Daily Banner (1.28.2014)
Importance of public notices can’t be overstated – Elk Valley Times, Fayetteville, Tenn. (1.20.2014)

State Legislation
A very busy start to the new year with 37 states already in session!
See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills we have identified so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at: http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

General
Rhode Island: H 7133 – in Committee – A proposal buried in a 245 page appropriations bill, would move all legal notices to the Web.

Government notices
Alabama: HB 71 – Passed Committee – Moves voter registration lists from the newspaper to a website.
Alaska: HB 275 – in Committee – Allows municipalities to move notices to their own website.
Indiana: HB 1266 – Passed Committee – Proposal to move budget notices to the Department of Local Government Finance website.
Kentucky: SB 101 – in Committee – Local government permitted to move notices to a government website, but still requires newspaper run ads alerting people to the URL of the website.
Maryland: SB 397 – in Committee – Proposal would allow municipal and county notices to the web.
Mississippi: HB 630 – in Committee – If the population is over 100,000 municipalities permitted to move their notices to the web if also post in two forms of social media.
New York: AB 4149 – in Committee – Westchester County move their legal notices to the web.

Notices move to radio
Virginia: HB 95 – Failed Committee & SB 472 – in Committee – Bills that would allow a locality to post notices on the Internet, on radio or on television in lieu of publishing in a newspaper. HB 95 is limited to those localities with a population greater than 50,000.
Tennessee: SB 1889/HB 1773 – in Committee – Introduced each year for the past several years, this proposal would move notices to radio so long as the notice is also posted on the radio website.

Post & publish
Colorado: HB 1086 – Passed Committee – Similar to the Tennessee bill passed last year, this bill would require newspapers to publish the notice in print and then post the notice on a centralized website maintained by a majority of newspapers.
Florida: HB 781 – filed – Proposal that mandates if a legal notice is published in a newspaper, no additional fee may be charged for viewing or searching for the notice in the online edition of the same newspaper.

Self-storage bills – commercially reasonable test
These proposals are similar to bills introduced and passed last year that require publication or advertising in a “commercially reasonable manner” which is assumed if 3 independent bidders attend the sale.
Indiana: HB 1385 – in Committee.
Missouri: HB 1225 – in Committee.

Articles & Editorials
Left- and right-leaning public interest groups in Michigan have issued a joint call for transparency in state business incentives programs, such as those administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The Public Interest Research Group of Michigan (PIRGIM) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy – which don’t often find themselves taking the same position on an issue – say they could not agree more. PIRGIM program associate Eric Mosher says that the MEDC has a lackluster record of meeting their goals and that taxpayers should know whether tax dollars are being spent successfully. James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center, says the state should disclose what these programs cost and the number of jobs at facilities subsidized by state taxpayers.
More MEDC Transparency – WATZ Radio, Alpena, Mich. (1.12.2014)

A public interest group in Flathead County, Mont., has successfully pressured county commissioners to postpone a public hearing. Citizens for a Better Flathead allege that the county is not following state law when providing notice of zoning changes. County planning director BJ Grieve told the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell that the organization’s criticism stems from a procedural change in August 2012 following complaints the planning office had received about the amount of time it took to process a zone change.

“We reviewed what at that time was a 31-week process and identified three places where we felt we could cut out some time while still meeting statutory requirements and make it a 19-week process,” Grieve said. The newspaper says that one of the places the office identified was the timeline for publishing legal notice of public hearings for zone changes. Legal notices of planning board hearings are published in the newspaper 17 days prior to the hearing, Grieve said. However, legal notice of the commissioners’ public hearing must be published in the newspaper once a week for two weeks prior to the hearing and, due to a change in the law a few years ago, posted in at least five public places no less than 45 days (or just over six weeks) prior to the commissioners’ hearing.
Group questions county’s public notice process – Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont. (1.18.2014)

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has declined to sign a bill that would have required public notification whenever sewer-outfall pipes dump raw sewage into local rivers and bays. The legislation had received overwhelming support by both parties in the state legislature, says The Record newspaper in Bergen County, N.J. Christie’s office announced that he let the bill expire without signing it.

Environmental groups had pushed for public notification when sewer lines overflow because the health of those who use the rivers and bays right after an overflow could be at risk. Raw sewage can cause gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and skin, respiratory and ear infections, the newspaper said.

The bill would have required towns and sewer authorities to report expected sewer overflows to the state Department of Environmental Protection either before they occur or immediately after they happen. The DEP would then have had to alert the public within 12 hours by posting a notice on the agency website and sending emails out to those who signed up for such a service.
Christie declines to sign bill requiring public notice of raw sewage overflows – The Record, Bergen County, N.J. (1.21.2014)


January 2014

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC, ACCN Launch 2014 Public Notice Journalism Contest
The Public Notice Research Center, in cooperation with American Court and Commercial Newspaper members, has launched its first-ever Public Notice Journalism Contest to recognize excellence in journalism that draws reader attention to public notice.

PNRC co-director Tonda Rush announced the 2014 contest at the December 2013 Newspaper Association Managers conference in Washington. Information from PNRC and ACCN presidents will be sent to state associations, urging them to participate.

The contest – with state awards of $200 and a national prize of $700 – is open to stories which cite the public notice requirements and refer readers to the publication in which it appeared, or stories in which the notice was not met or was deficient. Entries may be either print or digital format.

National award winners will be selected from state association submission and from an at-large category. One national award will be presented in March 2014 for a story published in 2013. No state awards will be given in 2014. More information is available at pnrc.net.

Mass. Rep. Pushing for Online Public Notices
A Massachusetts state representative has drafted legislation that would authorize municipalities to post public notices online rather than having to pay the local newspaper to publish them, the Milford Daily News has reported.

Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Franklin Democrat, testified before the state House Joint Committee on the Judiciary in November, arguing that his bill would increase transparency and help “cash-strapped” cities and towns save money. Newspaper publishers testified against the legislation, arguing that to remove the ads from newspapers would be to undermine accountability, reduce transparency and weaken the economy.

In an interview with the Daily News, Roy said that his decision to bring the bill forward stems in large part from his days on the Franklin Town Council and conversations related to the yearly allocation of money for advertising. In fiscal year 2013, the town spent $25,195 on advertising, mostly for public notices, the newspaper reported.

Roy said that newspapers were too expensive for people to purchase and that their reach is declining. “The bottom line is that print newspapers no longer provide the reach into most households in a community as they did several decades ago,” Roy told the newspaper.

The bill allows cities and towns to choose the route they use to get the notice to the public, but requires that online public notices must be accessible 90% of the time, 24 hours a day.

Franklin Rep. Roy pushes for online public notices – The Milford (Mass.) Daily News (11.29.2013)
Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association Response

Georgia Commissioner Asks Legislature to Allow Notices on Local Websites
A Hall County, Georgia, commissioner has asked members of the county’s legislative delegation to change state law and allow public notices to be posted on local websites rather than printed in newspapers.

“We would like to see the legal organ set up with a local media website, such as Access North Georgia,” Mecum told legislators. “We figured that it would be a more fair trade setup.”

Access North Georgia is owned by Gainesville, Ga.-based Jacobs Media, which owns several radio stations in the county.

The Gainesville Times, which carries the county’s public notices, reported that Mecum said there would be a cost saving for the county. “It would be cheaper for us and far more accessible. 100 percent,” he said. “It would just be a lot cheaper and more accessible. We could have a bargaining tool basically to keep our costs down. We would just like to have something other than a printed — if somebody wants to print, they can do that — but to have something like that, it would be cheaper, more advantageous.”

Georgia State law currently requires the legal organ to be a paid circulation newspaper. The Times is the only newspaper in Hall County that meets the qualifications to serve as a legal organ under the current law.

The newspaper noted that all legal notices published in The Times are also posted on gainesvilletimes.com, where they are accessible at no charge, and that the Georgia Press Association maintains a public notice website.

State Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville), noted his concern about moving public notices to online-only access. “The way they were expressing it, they wanted to get away from the newsprint totally,” Rogers said. For people with no internet access, it was “a concern, no doubt,” he said.

Speaking on radio station WDUN – a Jacobs Media radio station – Mecum attempted to clarify his comments, saying that “people 45 and under don’t get their information from newspapers – they get it off the internet.”

In the same interview, he said that the county has spent $45,000 so far in 2013 on public notices. “But if we go digital – totally digital – where you just go on the internet to get [public notices], I think it would cut the cost considerably.”

Mecum wants to change law on legal organs The Gainesville (Ga.) Times (12.12.2013)
Our views: Move to change legal organ a way to keep public in dark – The Gainesville (Ga.) Times (12.15.2013)
Mecum defends request for change in legal organ law – AccessNorthGa.com (12.18.2013)

Link Rot, Reference Rot Accelerating, says ABA
The World Wide Web may seem like a limitless superhighway, but it is filled with dead ends: hyperlinks that point to webpages that have become permanently unavailable. It’s a phenomenon known as “link rot.”

A story in the American Bar Association Journal notes that while landing on a broken link can be frustrating, a growing body of research has identified more dire implications. A subcategory – “reference rot” – occurs when the link exists, but the information referenced is no longer present. With the continued growth of the internet, the amount of such rot has been accelerating, studies have shown, imperiling citation references in academic research and case law. For practicing lawyers, link rot is making it harder to find examples of legal precedent.

The story cites a number of endeavors which are working to preserve weblinks, and a study published in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology which found that nearly one-third of the websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court were nonfunctioning, many of which linked to government or education domains.

This concern was expressed by PNRC to the American Bar Association when it endorsed the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act, which permits state governments to use digital-only platforms for critical legal materials.

‘Link Rot’ is Degrading Legal Research and Case Cites ABA Journal (12.1.2013)
Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation Yale Journal of Law and Technology (Vol. 15, Issue 2)

Arizona Secretary of State Says Access to Public Records “in Jeopardy”
Access to public records is in jeopardy as many important records are “born digital” and are never printed on paper, writes Arizona’s secretary of state Ken Bennett, in an opinion column published in the Arizona Republic. “Advancements in technology have had an enormous impact on records preservation, and while electronic records can help ensure greater accessibility than ever before, proactive management is required to avoid the catastrophic loss of records through electronic degradation,” writes Bennett.

Your digital deeds, transcripts are in jeopardy – Arizona Republic, Phoenix (12.23.2013)

Report Says Government Records Won’t Meet Digital Management Directive
Just days away from a key deadline to digitize and streamline their records management practices, almost half – 46% – of Federal agency records and information management professionals do not believe, or are unsure if, the requirements are realistic and obtainable, says a new report from MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving the outcomes of government IT.

The study reveals that three of four Federal agency records and information management professionals believe the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records will achieve its mission of enabling modern, high quality records and information management. Issued in August 2012, the directive aims to transform Federal records management by requiring agencies to transition to electronic recordkeeping for all permanent records by 2019. While 55% of the survey respondents believe the directive will improve compliance with Federal records management statutes and regulations, this optimism is tempered by agency skepticism that they will be able to comply with the Dec. 31 deadline, requiring agencies to identify all permanent records in existence for more than 30 years, as well as report on progress toward managing those records in electronic format.

Seventy percent of respondents say they have very little progress to report in regards to electronically managing permanent records and email, while just 18% say they have made significant progress and are ready to report today. Some 92% of respondents believe their agency must take further steps to meet the directive requirements.

Federal Records and Information Management: Ready to Rumble? – MeriTalk (12.16.2013)

Public Notice Leads to Home Health Care Story
An Iowa newspaper has reported extensively on a public notice that ran in the newspaper, quoting from the public notice and interviewing county health officials for further information.

A Dec. 4 Osceola Sentinel-Tribune story on the county’s decision to stop providing skilled home-care services reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, notes that the paper ran the public notice on Nov. 28.  News editor Amy Hansen’s story included a quotation from the public notice itself: “Clarke County Public Health will continue to operate, focusing on the mission of preventing illness, promoting health and providing care to the population as a whole.”

Hansen’s story included an interview with the county health administrator.

Public health won’t provide services reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid – Osceola (Iowa) Sentinel-Tribune (12.4.2013)


State Legislation

37 state legislatures will be in session by January 31. For a comprehensive list of important public notice bills, visit the PNRC website at: http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

PNRC co-director Sara DeForge Hough has compiled a summary of 2013 legislative activity exclusively for PNRC subscribing partners. PNRC identified more than 150 state bills (and one federal resolution) directly impacting public notices in newspapers. You can download the year-end report here.

Articles & Editorials

Unexpected delays at the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) have caused public schools to miss required deadlines to publish educational progress reports in local newspapers required by the No Child Left Behind law.

The districts must publish information about academic progress yearly, but the PED has failed to provide school districts with that information in more than a year. In some districts, the last reports were published in November 2011. Newspapers in New Mexico have reported on school districts’ failures to publish the required information.

A PED analyst told the Albuquerque Journal that the agency will still be able to evaluate the schools, as the information can be found in “spotty” places on the PED website.
Delays hold up school districts’ notices – Albuquerque Journal (11.25.2013)

Cecil County, Md., officials have proposed a change to the county’s public notice requirements for residents who want to use sewage sludge as fertilizer on their properties. Presently, the Maryland Department of the Environment’s notification requirements only include printing a public notice in a local newspaper.

Cecil County has requested nearby Caroline County’s support for the legislation – which would require property owners applying for a sewage sludge permit to post a sign on the property and mail notices to neighbors – to demonstrate to its delegation and the Maryland General Assembly that a broad base of support exists. Caroline County commissioners have held off on taking a stance on the Cecil County plan.

Katheleen Freeman, director of the Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes, said this change in state law would not have an effect on daily operations for the county planning and codes staff, only on residents applying for a permit. Freeman told the Caroline News Record that she could not think of an instance when a neighboring property owner had ever commented on a sewage sludge use notice in the newspaper.
Sewage sludge use notice legislation – Caroline (Md.) Times Record (12.3.2013)

A Montana tax deed acquired by a property acquisition group has been declared void due to the county treasurer’s failure to file an affidavit of publication for the Notice of Sale of Delinquent Tax Lien for four years, the Bitterroot Star reports.

The homeowners, who failed to pay property taxes for tax years 2008 to 2011, were notified by Zinvest, which had acquired the tax deed, in April 2012 that if the taxes were not paid in full in two weeks, the company take action against the property. In June 2012, it paid the delinquent taxes and received an Assignment Sale Certificate – and, in September 2012, a tax deed – from the county.

In court actions to quiet title to the property, the homeowners’ attorney argued that the county treasurer had not filed any affidavits of publication in 2008 or 2009 and that affidavits for 2010 and 2011 were filed late, only after it was brought to the county’s attention in 2013.

Zinvest’s lawyers argued that the public notices were in fact published and all legally required notifications were given to the homeowners, who had the opportunity to address the back taxes and did not.

The district court judge, citing a Montana Supreme Court case, held that “tax deed statutes must be strictly followed.”

Sale of delinquent tax deed voided due to treasurer error Bitterroot Star, Stevensville, Mont. (11.25.2013)