THE ISSUE: Indiana House Bill 1212 would change the publication requirement for notice of sheriff's sales (mortgage foreclosures), eliminating newspaper publication in favor of posting the information on a website operated by the county or the sheriff.
OUR OPINION: Publication of sheriff's sales in the local newspaper maximizes community access while closing the door on potential misconduct.
Before Indiana legislators is H.B. 1212, which passed the House Committee on Financial Institutions on a 7-3 vote. A full vote by the House could come as early as midweek.
The bill's author, Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, has said she wants to eliminate newspaper publication of public notices altogether. We believe that goes against the public good.
Should mortgage foreclosures be relegated to digital publication, only people with internet access and an enabling device, i.e. computer, tablet or smartphone, would be able to see them. The disadvantaged would be denied access, unless they had bus fare for a daily trip to the public library.
Public notice of foreclosures protects the elderly, disabled, uneducated and those out of the country – like members of the Armed Forces. It also helps the holder of the mortgage by enlarging the pool of bidders should a property actually go to foreclosure sale. Newspaper public notices alert an entire community of an event that serves the property rights of a member of the community.
Public notices in newspapers are in plain sight. CNHI Indiana newspapers also post the notices to their websites, to ensure the widest possible public exposure. Hiding them away on government websites as McNamara suggests increases the opportunity for self-dealing or collusion. It helps attorneys who handle the foreclosure process and predatory insiders interested in buying the properties at the lowest price possible, so they can turn a larger profit on the resale after the homeowner is evicted.
Under H.B. 1212, the county or sheriff's department — with more critical duties before them — would be responsible for uploading the information. They would have to reassign or hire staff to post the information in a timely fashion, ensure its accuracy, provide proofs of publication and maintain individual listings for three years. Who would pay for that? Already overburdened taxpayers.
The cost of newspaper publication, though, falls squarely on those who benefit from the sale. That's who should pay the fee for service. And while the money does go to help pay printing costs and journalists' salaries, it's hardly a subsidy, as McNamara has framed it.
Newspapers are at their core information aggregators. Three million Hoosiers read a printed newspaper during an average week, according to data provided by the Hoosier State Press Association. They pick up the paper for many reasons, not the least of which is to peruse the Classified Ads, where jobs are found, cars are sold, and public notices are printed, everything from the school superintendent's salary and the city's budget, to name changes and, yes, sheriff's sales.
Newspapers have the expertise to maximize accuracy, oversee the integrity of the process and disseminate the information to the most people. They serve a broad audience that is looking for news.
When a choice is to be made on access to information, we urge lawmakers to join us in protecting the public's right to know. They should side with the people they serve and reject H.B. 1212.