By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director
Making our popular and easy-to-use public notice website, PublicNoticesOhio.com, the “official” website for digital notices in Ohio has been our top priority in the current legislative session.
In the past two weeks, it hit a speed-bump.
Tuesday night, at our request, all the changes regarding the public notice website were deleted from a bill as the House Finance Committee would not agree to our proposed amendment to fix language issues we identified. Unless something changes, the status quo of current law remains.
Comparing the proposal we submitted versus what actually appeared in the bill as introduced, we identified several concerns. This was contained in HB 483, which is a 1,000+ page “mid-year budget review” bill that contains many other items you may have been reading about.
The deal-breaker was this: The bill does not contain language that said the website would be run by a “trade association representing a majority of newspapers qualified to publish notices under statute.” This is quite similar to language several other states have adopted. Instead, ONA would have had to negotiate a contract with the state with all the uncertainty that implies – not only for us, but also regarding access to information about notices for Ohio citizens.
This is proactive legislation that positions us for the future and makes sense for governmental bodies and Ohio citizens. We can live with the status quo for now. What I do believe is that, if we cannot get this done via statute, it will be even more important to for all ONA members to continue to upload notices to the site so it is the go-to place for digital notices in Ohio. This serves citizens and extends the important relationships that newspapers have had with notice advertisers for many years.
What happens next? It was encouraging to hear the committee chair, Rep. Ron Amstutz, publicly state that he hopes the proposal can go forward with additional work. We believe we have a reasonable chance of restoring our language when the bill lands in the Senate.
In the meantime, if you would like more detail on our proposal, and why we think it is important to achieve this, just let me know.
Other legislative goals & accomplishments to note
In a meeting this week with our metro newspaper publishers, our government relations partners at Capitol Consulting offered an excellent recap of a number of other bills we are following as well as some of the accomplishments of recent months.
A top goal in the next week is to finalize language we will propose to correct a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision that has made it all but impossible to collect attorney fees in public records cases, even when egregious violations have occurred.
Bills to improve the definition of an open meeting and gain access to police records of private colleges using sworn officers will be priorities for us throughout 2014.
Here are some recent successes I’d like to share. All these bills are pending :
Fiscal officer integrity (SB 6/HB 10) – Working with Auditor Dave Yost, we were able to fix problems in this bill that raised open meetings and open records concerns. The bill is designed to facilitate the process of investigating and potentially removing some elected officials for malfeasance in office. There no longer are any open meetings concerns in the bill, and all records will become open at some point.
Juvenile justice (SB 143) – We were able to correct a provision that would have blocked any access to records of juveniles being held in adult facilities.
Foreclosures and sheriff’s sales (HB 223) – A bill to narrowly deal with the issue of expediting the sales of blighted property in urban areas nearly had an amendment that would have made all sheriffs’ notices optional in newspapers. We were able to work with the advocates, make our case and prevent the amendment from being offered.
Meetings by teleconference (SB 155) – When there is a legitimate situation to allow public officials to attend meetings by teleconference, this bill establishes a number of requirements to ensure the public is served. ONA’s general position is that most public meetings should have required attendance in person. Now we have good rules of the road for the exceptions.
As always, refer to the ONA Legislative Watch List for additional information on the many bills we are following.