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A Senate Committee last week wisely spiked a bill that effectively would hide public notices from the public.

SB 268 would nix the requirement that legal notices (also called public notices) be published in newspapers, a longtime practice that gets the information out to the most people. Instead, the bill would allow public bodies to post the notices on their own websites or a website that would be created by the Secretary of State’s office.

This would serve special interests at the expense of the public. Notices for foreclosure auctions, for example, can be seen by everyone in newspapers. But if this legislation passed, it would be difficult for people to track down the auctions ahead of time.

The notices would move from newspapers to obscure websites. Not everyone has a computer or internet access, but those of us who do would have a hard time finding the notices. Different notices could be posted on different websites, since different foreclosure companies handle different foreclosures.

The bidders who did find the auction would have an advantage, possibly an opportunity to buy property for under value.

Senators on the General Laws Committee apparently realized the wisdom in keeping legal notices in newspapers, a practice that has occurred for more than a century. The committee voted against the measure last week on a 2-5 vote.

An alternate bill, SB 515, would be a win-win by keeping public notices in newspapers, while also allowing them to run online. The Missouri Press Association already operates a clearinghouse website for public notices across the state:

It was a battle victory for the public, but the war is not won. A similar bill is being considered by the House.

House Bill 686, sponsored by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, has had a committee hearing in the House, but has not been voted on. With such legislation, the financial hit to newspapers would pale in comparison to the damage to trust and transparency in government.

We ask House members to follow the Senate’s lead and vote down any bill that would make public notices less noticeable.

News Tribune

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