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Hawaii Makes Progress in Moving Public Notices Online… Deep Pockets At Civil Beat Could Spell Trouble for Local Papers

This has been a busy two weeks in on line legal notice activity. Hawaii has a bill which has passed the Senate unanimously. California has a new very clever bill proposed. Virginia’s Press Association succeeded in convincing legislators to water down the bills attempting to save the state money.

*Virginia*’s Legislature, which had the most promise for passing 8 state wide bills to move notices on line, caved to the pressure of the Virginia Press Association. As of our last report http://legal-notice.org/blog/virginia-2-line-legal-notice-bills-pass-va-house-delegates-large-margins, only two bills remained alive which could potentially save the taxpayers money without continuing to subsidize the printed newspaper industry.

* House Bill 234 http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?121+sum+HB234  would have reduced the amount of information required to be published in the newspaper about a time-share being sold under foreclosure. It  passed the House by a huge 98-2 margin on February 14. Prior to the bill going to the Senate and bowing to lobbying by the Va. Press Association, the wording that would have reduced the amount of information required to be published in print, was changed and the requirement to publish an absurd amount of information in print was reinstated. The bill, whose purpose was to “reduce the amount of information required to be published” was neutered and ultimately will save the state nothing while reserving the subsidy to newspapers. The bill will most likely be signed.

* House Bill 1193 http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=121&typ=bil&val=HB1193 would have required local public bodies to post required procurement notices on the Department of General Services’ central electronic procurement website and makes newspaper publication optional. It passed the House of Delegates 78-21 but was set aside by the Senate’s Committee on General Laws and Technology by a 10-4 margin.

In *Hawaii*, we reported last http://legal-notice.org/blog/hawaii-senate-committees-vote-bill-which-allows-moving-public-notices-line that Senate Bill 2233

http://www.capitol.hawaii.measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=2233 had made it out of multiple Senate Committees. Since then the Senate Ways and Means Committee slightly watered down the bill (State-wide notices can be moved out of the statewide paper and into a local paper and county-wide notices can be published on line) and recommended passage. *The Senate unanimously passed the bill 25-0* and it is now in the House where the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on March 15.

Hawaii is unique in that there is a very well written on line newspaper, Honolulu Civil Beat, that has a deep-pocketed owner who could be influential.

*Florida* took the first step in moving notices on line. Both the House and the Senate passed the bill and it was sent to Governor Rick Scott for signing. HB937 http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bill/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=48170 appears benign. It saves the state and local governments no money. It just mandates that notices published in print are also published on line.

The newspapers see this as a victory but it sets them up for the next round of legislation which should say that notices will no longer need to be in print (see below).

We’ve saved the best for last. *California*, the largest state and the most technologically progressive (as well as the most troubled financially) has proposed the most thoughtful bill yet from any state since we’ve been covering this issue. Instead of enforcing that the government publish notices, http://totalcapitol.com/?bill_id=201120120AB1902 in detail expands the definition of newspaper of general interest to on line
newspapers.

Ironically, the need for this bill came from the situation that exists in many rural areas where the print newspapers have now deserted them while on line publications have come in to fill the void of news provider.

We will examine this in our next post as this bill successfully refutes the independence issue which the newspapers have successfully used to protect their franchise. This measure could be heard in committee by March 24.

End of Public Notices in the Newspapers Could Spell Trouble for Local Newspapers

Well this could be big trouble for our local newspapers and lots of money saved for Hawaii County taxpayers in general.

Yesterday, Senate Bill 2233 Relating to Electronic Communication passed with amendments by a vote of 14-0:

The committee(s) on WAM recommend(s) that the measure be PASSED, WITH AMENDMENTS. The votes in WAM were as follows: 14 Aye(s): Senator(s) Ige, Kidani, Chun Oakland, Dela Cruz, English, Espero, Fukunaga, Kahele, Kim, Kouchi, Ryan, Tokuda, Wakai, Slom; Aye(s) with reservations: none ; 0 No(es): none; and 0 Excused: none.

Senate Bill 2233:

Authorizes government agencies to disseminate publications of notice electronically, or in a daily or weekly publication of statewide circulation, or in a daily or weekly publication in the affected county, as appropriate; appropriates funds for the operational expenses of the office of information management technology; appropriates funds for the Hawaii public library system for public access support services; electronic notice requirement effective 7/1/2013. (SD1)

The other day Ian Lind blogged:

…But whatever the fate of this bill, the newspapers are facing another challenge in the form of a mainland competitor entering Hawaii’s market with a vertically integrated business plan designed to capture a big share of the market on publication of foreclosure notices. If you’ve been paying attention, foreclosures have been a big chunk of the legal notices category for the past several years, a situation that seems likely continue for at least several more…

Lind continued…

Hawaii newspaper publishers turned out to defend their existing monopoly on this source of government revenue. Despite protestations by some, it’s an important bit of income for publishers struggling to cope with the changing fortunes of the news industry.

But there’s another real threat to the newspaper’s legal notice revenues on the horizon. Actually, it appears to be closer than the horizon

I highly recommend reading the full post “Local newspapers face another likely competitor for lucrative legal notices“.

After I read about it and thought about it… I posted the following comment that I’m seriously thinking about doing similar to the MISSING page I have on top of this site:

This makes me want to experiment w/ posting public notices on my site on a page dedicated to just them.

I’ve heard that Stephens Media is very dependent on the government notices here on the Big Island in being able to stay profitable.