Again this year, bills in the Missouri Legislature would effectively hide public notices from the public.
Public notices, also called legal notices, are required by law to be published in newspapers.
The idea always has been to provide transparency in government, and the practice long has been required under state law. The notices inform Missourians about advertisements for bids, contracts, unclaimed property, school/government finances, court proceedings, foreclosures and assessments, among other things.
House Bill 686, sponsored by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, would drop the requirement for property foreclosure notices to be printed in newspapers, and allow them instead to be posted on the foreclosure trustee’s website.
But here’s the problem: Most people would never see those websites. There are hundreds — possibly thousands — of trustees doing business in Missouri. So it would be incredibly difficult for people to track down upcoming foreclosure auctions on all those obscure websites. Plus, not everyone has a computer or internet access.
If a foreclosed property is being sold on the courthouse steps, for instance, only the select people who can find the public notice for the sale will be able to bid. The few bidders who do know about the sale, then, would have an advantage — perhaps an opportunity to buy properties for far less than their value.
Just to be clear, this newspaper does have a dog in the fight. Trustees would benefit by saving the cost of paying newspapers to print the notices. Newspapers, on the other hand, would lose that revenue.
Newspapers remain the best avenue to inform the public about public notices. Newspapers still are read by the majority of the public, and they expect to find public notices in their paper.
A hearing for HB686 by the House General Laws Committee was held Feb. 20, and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.
If you, like us, believe that public notices should be open to the public, not hidden on obscure websites, we encourage you to attend the hearing and speak out or contact your elected state officials to let them know how you feel.