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Senate OK’s Proposal to Allow Online Posting of Public Notices

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The State Senate approved legislation today requiring newspapers that print public notices to post them on the Internet. Senate Bill 461, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is supported by the Tennessee Press Association.

Action on the bill was taken during “Sunshine Week,” an annual time to highlight the importance of maintaining open government nationwide. Yager said the legislation recognizes the growing use of the Internet as a source of information, while preserving the integrity of using an independent agency for public notice by newspapers of general circulation.

Current law requires public notices be given on a variety of matters of importance to the public, including government meetings, bid announcements, notice of parental termination, foreclosure notices, public sale of private property, back tax notices, estate notices and zoning changes, to name a few. Local governments, looking for ways to reduce expenditures have suggested they can save money by posting notices on their websites rather than posting them in a local newspaper.

“My experience in local government gives me a greater appreciation of the importance of this issue,” said Yager, who served as Roane County Executive for 24 years before being elected to the State Senate. “Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity in the process. To give even the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices, tarnishes the reputation of government because it undermines the concept of independence and transparency.”

In addition, the legislation calls for the newspapers to post public notices on a central statewide website. Every newspaper that publishes public notices must post on their website homepage a link to the public notice section and another link to the Tennessee Press Association’s statewide repository website.

“This bill combines the best of both worlds. It keeps public notices in places where more people can find them by ensuring the widest distribution,” said Senator Yager. “This measure comes with no extra costs to taxpayers, and promotes government transparency, efficiency and public trust. I am pleased that it has been approved by the full Senate and honored for its passage during a week that embraces openness in government.”

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Newspapers Back Online Notice Bill

Legal notices like public auctions and meeting announcements would have to be published online, as well as in newspapers, under a bill that is headed to both state House and Senate calendar committees to be scheduled for floor votes.

Newspapers that are eligible to print legal notices would be required to post them on their website and a site maintained by the Tennessee Press Association, starting April 1, 2014, under the amended versions of House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 461. The notices would be published on the Internet for the same period of time notices are published in the newspaper and at no extra cost to the person or business.

The bill is backed by the association, sponsor Sen. Ken Yager said. The Senate bill passed in the State and Local Government Committee he chairs, while the House State Government Committee approved the bill earlier Tuesday morning.

“The reason we’re doing this is we’ve been faced in recent years with multiple attempts to remove public notices from newspapers and put them on government websites exclusively,” the TPA’s Frank Gibson said.

“Fewer than a third of households in Tennessee ever see a government website, but over two-thirds either read the newspaper or the newspaper’s website,” said Gibson, the association’s public policy director. “That combination vehicle is the way to reach the widest audience.”

Ken Yager

Yager, a Republican, told the committee that the bill will not only “put in practice a system that will ensure the widest circulation of legal notices, but most important, legal notices will continue to be published by those institutions that are independent of the government.”

The Harriman representative said he thinks the bill combines the best of both worlds.

“It keeps public notice in places where most people can find them, which promote government transparency and public trust.”

According to Gibson, many, if not most, newspapers currently post public notices on both their own websites and TPA’s statewide aggregate website for no additional charge.

“TPA has 122 newspapers. Only two do not have websites, and they are in the process of building websites now,” Gibson said, adding they will be fully operational months before the bill takes effect.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.