Publishers Pen: The importance of legal notices in the newspaper and how their removal could affect you

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

As the Publisher of your local official legal publication of Elmore County, The Mountain Home News, and a member of the Newspaper Association of Idaho, I have watched a bill to remove legal notices in printed publications be introduced over and over again over the last several years. I feel it is restrictive, if not selective in readership, and could result in more government control. As your publisher locally, I feel it is the right of everyone to have reasonable access to public notices that affect us as a community by either government entities or personal notices that are required to run by law. This is what I believe to be total transparency for legal/public notices. It is imperative that one of the resources to remain is the in-print county legal publications, such as in your Mountain Home News, the official publication for Elmore County. We ourselves live in a very large rural county, that in many cases does not have access to internet providers at all and that would restrict access to legal notices in those areas. This would apply, not only, to legal notices that could affect them and keep them informed, but hinder their ability to attend date specific hearings and use their voice in the process, but also to notices that give you the opportunity to keep your eye on how government dollars are being budgeted and spent. We also have a portion of our community that does not have the equipment or resources to be “computer/internet” savvy, and rely on their legal publication, the Mountain Home News to give them the access to public notices that they depend on. Having legal notices solely online would cause readers that have a vested interest in the notice, or that simply want to be aware, opened up to a plethora of websites in order to reach the information that they want. Searching could be endless and a burden. In official legal print publications they are all in the same place, same format, and (at the publisher’s expense) also available online for review, not just for our county, but the entire state. We are providing what I believe to be the best of both options with print publishing and online access at www.IdahoPublicNotices.com

The Newspapers Association of Idaho, of which I am a member, is pleased to provide you information and facts concerning legal notices in Idaho. We hope this will shed some light on the true state of legal notices in the state and answer some of your questions regarding access and online notices. If you have any questions about this information, please reach out to me and I would be happy to discuss these points in more detail. Here is what happened just last week.

Friday morning, Feb 7th, Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) introduced a bill that would have allowed governmental entities to publish notices online, in lieu of publishing them in newspapers. It is fairly unprecedented that a bill would be introduced on Thursday, printed on Friday and then heard on the following Monday. It is my opinion they were trying to fast-track this bill.

As noted in the update below**, it did not pass, but I encourage you to take this opportunity to see who voted to allow this bill to pass with their “Do Pass” recommendation. This would have taken away the right to read the notices in print for those that have a vested interest in our community and county and have no internet access. In a political arena, that has an elected few capable of affecting the many, I say use your voice. I have reached out to my Representative that had a voting right in this circumstance on many occasions via voicemail and email over the last several years. (When politicians proclaim they are “representing” their county to which they were elected to, without speaking or at least hearing out those affected, it appears to me to be disrespectful to their claim.) There is a concern on both sides of the fence in arguments to keep legal notices in print or to remove them. In an election year I encourage you to reach out to all of your elected officials and those that have thrown their hat into the arena to hear you, and ask that they “represent” all the voters that got them there in the first place, on any of your concerns or even with just a question. I also encourage our readers to reach out to those running for office in order to be informed in your ability to make an educated choice when it comes to the ballot box. Exercise your right to vote, and in doing so, exercise your opportunity to participate in making the choice of which candidates will represent us not only on a city, county, state and national level, but on the other bonds and levies that are at the ballot box.

House Bill 439 – allowing governmental entities to publish notices online – died in the House State Affairs Committee this morning on a 7 - 7 tie-vote. (02/10/2020)https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/2020/legislation/H0439/

Voting to send the bill to the floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation were Representatives: Heather Scott, Christy Zito, Steve Harris, Joe Palmer, James Holtzclaw, Jason Monks and Julianne Young.

Voting to hold the bill in committee were Representatives: Randy Armstrong, Vito Barbieri, Brent Crane, Brook Green, Elaine Smith, Kevin Andrus, and Linda Hartgen.

I thank those representatives that voted to hold the bill in committee. This gives newspaper publishers the continued opportunity to speak for ourselves, but also our reader’s “right to know” and come to a compromise that would benefit us all.

Why public notice in newspapers?

1. Allowing for the Internet-only posting of public notices takes away third-party neutral interest, and removes any independent proof of publication. For example, once officially printed in a newspaper, the posting entity cannot later change or manipulate the timing of public notices.

2. Content in newspapers serve an important monitoring function. If government entities and private parties are able to publish their own notices, it would be much more difficult for the community to monitor whether they are in fact publishing them. Newspapers, on the other hand, have a contract with the state and a duty to publish and thus are more apt to make sure local governments are publishing notices in accordance with the law.

3. With an online format, measuring readership is very difficult. To qualify as an official publication for the purpose of printing notices, newspapers are required to demonstrate readership by providing records of paid subscribers, maintaining postal permits, or submitting to outside subscription audits.

4. Local newspapers are the traditional medium for public notices where the public, including infrequent newspaper readers, expect to find them. (In fact, some commercial services, such as those serving the construction industry, actually mine public notices, and then pass on valuable information via e-mail notification lists).

5. Particularly in rural areas and aging populations there still are people without adequate computer or internet access.

6. Newspapers offer readers a single, convenient location at which to find public notices. By contrast, allowing individual government entities to publish notices on their respective websites would create a myriad of different locations on the World Wide Web. (E.g. state, county, city, taxing districts, bank foreclosures, notice to creditors)

7. The stability of newspapers as a medium for public notices is unquestionable. Printed legal ads provide a record of public notices that cannot be altered. They are archived and available for review, as opposed to some internet sites that here today and gone tomorrow.

8. Interested parties cannot prove that they were properly notified of an impending action. On the other hand, newspapers serve as an authentic record of publication, and provide sworn affidavits that legals were published along with physical tearsheets of the legal notice as printed. Newspapers are archived creating an ability for private parties and governmental entities to prove statutory notice was given-and given properly.

9. Internet publication of statutorily required public notice should be utilized to supplement the publication of legal notices in qualified newspapers. In addition the Newspaper Association of Idaho maintains, at its own expense, a searchable website that contains access to all public notices required to be published in the state of Idaho.

10. Constitutional guarantee of due process. Notice must be reasonably calculated to give party notice of the hearing and sale. Consider a tax sale – notify person having property sold, but also encourage more bidders.

11. Special purpose districts provide notice of budget and special elections. It is doubtful all LID or CID would have a website.

12. Newspaper creates a tangible object, not subject to manipulation or hacking.

With all due respect I ask you to be aware of the possibility of one of the longest running mediums of legal notice availability being threatened, and our continued effort as publishers to protect that medium. They say newspapers are dying, but I disagree, as our readers have proven with their subscriptions. Mountain Home is a great community to live in and your ability to be informed continues to be our privilege to provide for you.

Reach out, use your voice, email your elected officials, ask questions, receive answers, become educated on all political decisions that affect you. Stephanie and I will be attending a meeting at the Capitol later this month, to not only speak on this important piece of legislation, but to observe some of the working mechanics of our state government and we are looking forward to it.

Brenda M Fincher


Mountain Home News