By Sabrina Bates
MVP Regional News Editor
Media outlets across the state, particularly local newspapers, are paying close attention to a proposed bill that would shift foreclosure notices from newspapers of general circulation to the Secretary of State’s website.
Senate Bill 1324 amends a current law that requires foreclosing parties to publish a notice of foreclosure at least three times in a newspaper in a county where a trustee sale is set to be made. Instead of posting the notice in a newspaper, the amendment would allow foreclosing parties to publish the notice on the Secretary of State’s website for at least 20 continuous days before a foreclosure sale at $200 per posting.
SB 1324 was introduced by Sen. Paul Bailey, a Republican farmer from Sparta who represents six counties in East Tennessee. The House version, HB 1355, is sponsored by Sevierville attorney Rep. Andrew Farmer.
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the bill was headed to the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee and on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to the House Civil Justice Committee of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly for consideration. The Senate committee deferred action on the proposed legislation until March 7.
Sen. John Stevens, a Huntingdon attorney who represents Benton, Carroll, Weakley, Gibson, Henry and Obion counties, said he plans to vote against the legislation. Stevens is a member of the Senate’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
Stevens said after talking with the banker’s association, local media representatives and local bankers, he has decided to not vote in favor of the bill.
“While I agree with the vast majority of the reforms in the bill dealing with some technical issues surrounding foreclosures, the new website through the secretary of state’s office does not seem to make sense given the TPA’s (Tennessee Press Association) creation of a specific site for public notices. While I support the idea of maximizing the reach of notices so more people will show (up) to buy a house in foreclosure at a sale, I’m not yet comfortable that the new website is going to be any more effective than our current system,” Stevens noted.
Daniel Richardson, CEO and president of Magic Valley Publishing Co., which operates 15 local newspapers across West Tennessee, including this publication, said proposed legislation that targets publication of notices this year could ultimately turn them into online scavenger hunts.
“The bill the Banker’s Association has proposed and lobbied for to remove foreclosure notices from newspapers, if passed, would drastically reduce the awareness of the foreclosures and therefore the participation of the sale. The bill would not save taxpayers any money because their tax bill is not going down. Any money saved by not informing the public of these events would be spent somewhere else.
“Where else, you ask? If East Tennessee and metro politicians have their way to keep chipping away at public notices, you may never know where all that ‘saved’ money is going,” Richardson said.
Richardson expressed the same sentiment as Stevens in regard to government-managed websites. The Tennessee Press Association offers a public notice website that mirrors all public notices in the state’s member newspapers. Public notices are uploaded to the portal, tnpublicnotice.com, which is a free website for visitors.
“Government websites rarely work the way they’re supposed to. The Tennessee Press Association and member newspapers have addressed the issue of free access to public notice years ago with the website tnpublicnotice.com. It cost taxpayers nothing to build or maintain and provides free access to all Tennessee public notices to anyone with an internet connection. And for the often-forgotten portion of our population that still does not have internet access, the notices are in the local newspaper,” Richardson added.
House member Rep. Tandy Darby of Greenfield, who represents Weakley County and a portion of Carroll and Henry counties, said he hasn’t conducted due diligence on this proposed legislation as it isn’t slated yet for his committees, but his concern with shifting public notices online is the lack of internet access for every household in his district.
Stevens can be contacted by calling 1-615-741-4576 or email to email@example.com.
Darby may be reached at 1-615-741-7847 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.