Legal Notice – SB 208

I was going to post a summary of the meeting, but many other people have already done a good job of that (Holly, JM Bell, Jason, Bob, Joe). So far, it appears that only JM Bell and BenJoe have taken the time to create something more than a back-of-the-napkin post of quotes and initial reactions.  (That’s not a criticism of the other posts, by the way.) From the meeting itself I only want to post one little gem from Sen. Urquhart:

It’s not government’s job to prop up an industry.

I wish someone would tell that to Congress.

Now, my initial thoughts were that I can’t wait to see how the media reacts to this. The very tip of the iceberg comes in the form of a comment that has been posted on a couple of the blogs that wrote initial reactions.

The claim is that the newspapers are already developing a website that would serve a similar purpose of providing more access and wider distribution of legal notices. Personally, I won’t hold my breath. Even if their site is close to production I would have to see it before deciding if it really serves the public. There is no reason that citizens should be mandated to publish through the newspapers – just as there would be no justification for mandating that they could not publish through the newspapers.

If newspapers are pushing to raise the cap on what they can charge for legal notices I have a hard time imagining that they are planning to offer the services of their new website for free or even at a low cost.

I think the heart of the comment is in this paragraph:

As has been the case for centuries, public notice is best served by a third-party, independent source. There should be a be check and balance on government power. In other words, should the fox be watching the henhouse when it comes to legal notices? Also, should the government be in the business of creating its own communications bureaucracy?

I think we need to define who the parties are to this system. The government has nothing to gain by not publishing some legal notice that has been submitted so I’m not sure that you could claim that they are any less independent than the newspapers. I don’t believe that publishing legal notices gives any power to the press. The whole statement sounds like a breathless rush to throw out something that might make people reject this proposal without any real argument against it.

A more thoughtful question was posed during the briefing (I believe by Ethan Millard):

Why should government take over a market that has been a private transaction?

My answer has two parts. First – is it really a private transaction when government has already mandated that the transaction take place? Second – I would not argue that government should take over such transactions, only that there is very little reason why government should avoid making the legal requirement that drives those transactions as painless as possible. If there were already some low-cost way for people to meet the requirements of providing legal notice that provided the requisite distribution of the notice then there would be no reason for this bill.

The fact is that government should not be mandating a captive market, as the legal notice requirement currently does. Newspapers have become dependent on their captive market – that’s not healthy for them and they need to fix it even if SB 208 were not being proposed. Let’s free people to allow publishing of  legal notice outside the newspapers and then eliminate the cap on what newspapers can charge for the notice when people choose to publish through the papers.

2 comments for “Legal Notice – SB 208

  1. February 12, 2009 at 7:33 am

    If government mandates that something happen they should also provide the resources to make it happen. This bill does just that.

    • February 12, 2009 at 10:55 am

      My thoughts exactly. The only reason not to pass this bill would be if the means to fulfill the requirement at minimal cost were already available – which they aren’t.

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