By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director

Dennis Hetzel

Hetzel

The Ohio Senate this week passed ONA-sponsored language that would make our popular website, www.publicnoticesohio.com, the official website for Internet public notices in Ohio.

The measure, which is part of a large, mid-year budget bill, House Bill 483, now moves to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Should this become law, what will the impact be on ONA members? Actually, for almost all of you, it will be minimal, since most members have been voluntarily uploading notices to our website for many months or even years. Once a feed is set up, it is a simple process that can be automated in most cases.

However, posting to the site will become mandatory in most situations in order to qualify to publish notices. The result will be a site that probably will contain more than 300,000 public notices annually in an easy to find and search format, including notices from the legal newspapers in Ohio’s large cities. And it will be a site maintained by all of us – the ones who know the best way to handle public notices, work with government advertisers and inform the public.

If we already are doing this, you might ask why we are pursuing a change in statute. Several other states, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Tennessee in the Midwest, have adopted similar measures.

This measure maintains the importance of the print notice but also ensures we are being proactive in recognizing the growing impact of digital content. As most of you know, if you are not thinking ahead in the digital world, you aren’t just standing still, you’re falling behind. Digital notices should be in places where the public can easily search for them and find them. If you observe what is unfolding regarding public notices in many other states, I have no doubt that others will decide to be “forward-looking” for us if we fail to think ahead. We will not like that result, and it won’t serve the public.

Our measure also saves taxpayers money. The state government no longer will operate a statewide notice website, which was created in 2011 with an appropriation of $100,000.  We were able to demonstrate, working closely with Kasich Administration officials, that the state site has not been successful. Few notices are posted and few people go to the site in sharp contrast to the ONA site. It also will enable local government groups to take advantage more often of the cost savings built into the 2011 changes that all parties accepted. This simply will be part of newspapers’ ongoing relationships with government advertisers.

It is still possible that this provision could change. If so, we will lobby to return to the status quo versus initial language that was in the House version of the bill that we could not accept.

We are in the final laps of a process that we started with lawmakers in 2011. The ONA particularly thanks Sen. Randy Gardner and Sen. Scott Oelslager, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, for their efforts on our behalf.

As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

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