Editorial: Legal eyes — Changes in state law regarding legal notices a welcome improvement

Apr. 08, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

Those public, or legal, notices that appear in the back of this paper provide useful information to our readers. They tell of estate settlements, mortgage foreclosures, notices of meetings of public entities and advertisements for bids, among other subjects.

Newspapers have always been the go-to place for governments to advertise such things, but in recent years the legals have become a convenient target of some legislators who want to see those notices published in other venues without governments or law firms having to pay to run them in a paper.

Fighting off such ill-conceived and shortsighted legislation takes a lot of work. The Tennessee Press Association and its member papers work hard each legislative session to knock down bad bills and shore up the good ones. Once again the APA, member papers and fair-minded, reasonable legislators have come through to save those public notices. Changes to the law — welcomed by the press — will make them even more accessible.

Newspapers that publish public notices now must post them on their local website and also to www.tnpublicnotice.com – TPA’s statewide aggregate website. The bill, which takes effect April 1, 2014, also stipulates those extra services will be at no extra charge.

State Government Committee Chairman Ryan Haynes, a Knoxville Republican and prime House sponsor, said the bill was supported by TPA-member newspapers because “they are committed to open government, and this is one more service they can provide to make government more open and more transparent.”

The Senate version of the legislation  passed 11 days earlier after Ken Yager, R-Harriman, cited the value of independently-published public notices as a key component of “openness in government.” The vote there was 31-1, with Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, casting the lone no vote. In the Senate our own Doug Overbey was a co-sponsor. We thank him.

Newspapers, frankly, have not always done the best job of publishing these notices so they are inviting to readers. Some have printed them in type too small to be easily read. No wonder that over the years there has been a move to get them out of the paper and onto sites where they could be seen without paying a paper to print it. Newspapers, which make money on the legal notices, got the message. Most now place importance on their display and location. In the Mountain Press we box mortgage foreclosures and run them in larger type so they are easier to read.

While newspapers have, in the eyes of some, been diminished in recent years in terms of relevance and readership, in fact they are still the strongest source of news. The changes in the law are welcomed.