Residents benefit from public notices in newspapers

In this short session of the Indiana General Assembly, an effort is underway to change the way Hoosiers receive public notifications from state and local governmental units.

House Bill 1107, authored by state Rep. Doug Gutwein, R-Francesville, would eliminate the publication requirement for public notices.

We oppose the bill.

Passing the bill would mean public notice advertisements would be removed from Indiana newspapers, which are read by 3 million adult Hoosiers at least weekly, and placed only on multiple government websites.

That would put the burden on Hoosiers to routinely check the websites to see what government units are planning and proposing that might impact their lives or their community.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, an agency that informs residents when a facility would like permission to release air pollutants, expressed support for such a change in October. Should HB 1107 pass, Hoosiers would have to go to multiple government and agency websites and hunt for public notice information on these and other matters. The problem is websites aren’t always easy to navigate, so finding the public notices could be a challenge — and that would not aid the transparency that government should provide.

The way public notices are published in newspapers presents them in a format that makes them easy to find and easy to read, and disseminated broadly to provide greater reach.

About 3.6 million Hoosier adults read a printed newspaper or access a newspaper website at least weekly, according to a poll conducted last year by American Opinion Research for the Hoosier State Press Association, of which The Republic is a member.

The poll also showed that 63 percent of respondents said government agencies should be required to publish public notices, and that posting them solely on a government website would result in a 60 percent decline in readership.

State lawmakers should think twice about House Bill 1107 and look at Senate Bill 385 — which we support — for guidance.

Senate Bill 385, authored by state Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, would restore the requirement that local governments publish their proposed budgets and tax rate information in local newspapers prior to the hearing on that budget.

Such a requirement existed until 2014, when proposed budgets were moved from newspapers to the website of the state Department of Local Government Finance.

What that change did was sharply reduce the number of readers of the proposed budgets. The DLGF’s website had just 12,000 unique visitors to the budgets section for all of 2017. That’s disheartening.

Communities thrive when its residents are well informed and have information they can use to make decisions, or hold accountable those who control taxpayers’ money. But when those budgets are in a place where so few people read them, that does not aid open and healthy government.

Newspapers — print and online editions — play an important role in disseminating information, and ensuring government accountability.

We urge lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 385 and defeat House Bill 1107.

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