Proposal would allow legal notices to be published online
A bill has been introduced in the House to change the requirements local governments must meet when publishing legal notices.
For decades, officials in local units of government have been required to publish legal notices in daily and weekly newspapers. Now, however, thanks to the advances in technology, the percentage of citizens who seek news and information from newspapers has diminished and continues to decline. In addition, many newspapers no longer publish in print formats.
"The sources people use to find information have shifted," said Rep. Amanda Price, R-Holland, the sponsor of House Bill 5560. "More and more of them are going online. Many people who are under the age of 30 never read newspapers. With this bill we are looking to ensure that public notices remain widely accessible."
As the Internet continues to siphon advertising dollars away from print publications, legal notices are an increasingly important revenue source for newspapers. Conversely, from the perspective of local governments, taxpayer dollars currently spent on printing costs might be saved if public notice requirements were directed toward alternative means of posting.
However, accessibility and cost are not the only factors involved in the public notice debate. If public notices are allowed to be posted in ways other than print editions there could be the potential for the notices to be altered in nearly undetectable ways. For instance, they could be changed to hide the fact they they'd been posted for a period of time with incorrect information.
This is a major aspect of the argument the Michigan Press Association is making against House Bill 5560.
"The Michigan Press Association opposes this bill because we feel it would eliminate due process for citizens by eradicating the permanent, legal, independent notices that have been provided in print by Michigan's newspapers for over 150 years," said Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager for the MPA.
Rep. Price said there was some concern about the potential problem of some electronic postings being changeable and the importance of having entities that are outside of government remaining part of the process.
"We're hoping that as legislators we can find solutions," Rep. Price said. "Perhaps that third party outside of government could be groups, such as the MPA. There are other bills in this package that will follow, but House Bill 5560 is the hub. We know we have to make sure that we get this bill right before we move on to the others."
House Bill 5560 was introduced May 8. It is in the House Committee on Local Government, which is chaired by Rep. Price. One "testimony only" hearing has been held on the bill.
Rep. Price said she hopes the legislation can get passed and sent to the governor before the end of the year.
Under House Bill 5560, there are tiers (A, B and C) into which various types of public notices have been placed based on their relative importance. Tier A notices are of the most important and would have the most stringent requirements. Several laws that currently require that a public notice be published, but are no longer deemed appropriate would be eliminated under the bill.
As currently drafted, the bill would allow local officials to phase-in the new requirements until Jan. 1, 2025. Beginning Jan. 1, 2025, a local government required to provide public notice would do so in the following ways:
- Tier A public notice would be posted on the "active notice portion" of a website for 30 days;
- Tier A public notice with a link would be posted on the "active notice portion" of a website for 30 days with a link to the full document;
- Tier B public notice would be posted on the "active notice portion" of a website for 14 days;
- Tier B public notice with a link would be posted on the "active notice portion" of a website for 14 days with a link to the full document; and a
- Tier C public notice would be posted on the "active notice portion" of the website for 14 days.
In addition, a printed copy of the notice would be made available for public inspection by the local government for the duration of time that the notice was required.
Similar bills have been introduced in the Legislature since 2010 but none have reached the governor's desk for a signature.