Indiana Legislature: The Public’s Business Is Not Everybody’s Business

by Curt Kovener

The Indiana legislature, under the guise of saving money wants to eliminate telling you how government spends your money by publishing legal notices in your county newspapers. Their idea is to put the information on the internet.
And that could work except for a couple of things: information you read on the internet can be changed. A newspaper gives you a printed copy of what the government reported and it can’t be altered after you get your weekly newspaper.
Secondly, the urban dwelling state representatives who have multiple choices for high speed internet think everybody has the same high speed internet access. Some readers in Scott and Jackson County know that there are areas—all rural— that are underserved when it comes to connectivity. This is a deficiency that Gov. Eric Holcomb specifically spoke to as one of his priorities in the recent State of The State address.
When banks move to foreclose on homeowners, it initiates a legal process that includes the publication of a notice of a sheriff’s sale.
The published notice, whose cost is collected from the winning bidder at the sheriff’ run auction, serves to protect the elderly, the disabled, the uneducated, or people who are out of state, such as deployed members of the Armed Forces.
There are stories from all over the country of people who didn’t realize their property was in foreclosure until a friend or family member saw the published notice. There were cases in Florida where homes were being foreclosed on by Wells Fargo when it had no mortgages on those properties.
The published notices also increase the possible bidding pool for the foreclosed property. The idea being that more bidders mean the auction price should be higher, which serves the homeowner because the auction price is applied to his/her debt. Even after the loss of the home, the bank can still pursue the balance of the unpaid mortgage.
Publication of the names of those being foreclosed may also tip a business owner to be more cautious about extending credit to someone that he/she discovered may be suffering through a financial crisis as indicated by the foreclosure.
But Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, has filed a bill to eliminate this publication requirement. She would replace publication in the newspaper with a posting on the sheriff’s website or county government website.
McNamara testified before the House Committee on Financial Institutions that her ultimate goal is to eliminate all publication of public notices in newspapers. That would include information about school performance, how local government units spend tax dollars, requests for zoning variances, etc.
She calls the notices “a subsidy for newspapers”.
Newspapers are paid to publish public notice advertising. Since the founding of our country, newspapers have been the most cost-effective way to disseminate information that state legislatures have deemed so important to share with citizens that they statutorily require the published public notice. The payment is for the service, not a subsidy.
Hoosiers have repeatedly in surveys indicated they want those notices published in their local newspaper. Even when told government notices can cost thousands in taxpayer dollars, 63% said they want those notices published. If you get 63% of the vote in an election, it is called a landslide.
When asked if they would be as likely to see notices posted on government websites rather than the local newspaper, a measly 4% said they’d look for this important information online.
Who would benefit specifically from the elimination of the notices of sheriff’s sale from local newspapers? The bankers and select insiders who know how to reap the bargains available when a home is foreclosed. They no longer would have to pay for the cost of publication of the ad if they win the bid and bids will likely be lower because the competition will be less since the notices posted on a sheriff’s website will not be seen by nearly as many people.
Taxpayers also lose because H.B. 1212 will require the sheriff’s office to increase resources to constantly update the website with new postings, develop a system to verify when notices were posted and not altered or taken down prematurely, and also create a system to archive notices over a three-year period. This costs money and time– two things that could be better spent on law enforcement rather than assisting banks in the foreclosure process against homeowners.
Since newspapers already have this process in place at no cost to the taxpayers through the printing of the notices and placement on newspaper websites, it begs the question as to why throw away a system that works?