I had the great privilege of testifying at the Indiana Statehouse last week. The House Committee on Financial Institutions, chaired by Rep. Woody Burton, a Republican from Whiteland, was considering House Bill 1212, a terrible piece of legislation authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara.
McNamara is a Republican from Evansville. She has been in the Indiana Legislature for nine years and has repeatedly drafted bills designed to keep the public more in the dark by taking public notices out of newspapers. I’ve no idea what she has against all of you and the newspaper industry, but that’s hardly the point.
More importantly, our friends in the Statehouse are once again trying to create new laws to take those public notice ads out of general circulation newspapers and put them in the hands of, well, themselves.
How very convenient.
Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat from Indianapolis, told her colleagues during the committee that this really isn’t about money – even though McNamara, Rep. Heath VanNatter and others tried to make it so. Shackleford said that during a summer study committee she and others learned the amount of money spent on public notice advertising just doesn’t amount to very much.
She is absolutely correct.
Friends, this is not a question of money. Greg Morris, president and publisher of the Indianapolis Business Journal, testified that revenue from sheriff’s sales makes up less than 5 percent of his company’s total. When you look at the state budget, the totality of public notice advertising costs Hoosiers less than one-tenth of one percent.
It’s. Not. About. The. Money.
What it is about is making it harder for you, dear citizen, to find out what your government is doing. You see, if some hired hands in Indianapolis get their way, all public notices will disappear from newspapers and sneak over to government websites. So instead of picking up one newspaper in your community and finding out what dozens of government entities are doing, you’ll have to get on the trusty Internet and go to Lord knows how many websites to find the same thing. In your newspaper, everything was accessible within seconds. It might take hours to hit all those websites.
It is a fair point that public notice advertisements aren’t the most widely read item in our papers. No argument here. But friends, it’s not just about public notices. It’s about that slippery slope where those in power find ways to be less and less accountable. It’s about the idea that an independent party – your favorite newspaper – will be taken out of the loop and the folks controlling government information are . . . well, from the government. Why is that a problem? Let’s say that they had some bad news to share. Do you think there’s a chance it could end up mistakenly left out?
Why do farmers say you can’t let the fox guard the henhouse?
Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director and legal counsel Steve Key has been representing Indiana newspapers in the legislature for more than a quarter century. He testified that in his entire time, not one single citizen has brought forth an effort to allow the government to handle their own public notices and leave the state’s newspapers out. Every single effort to take public information and hide it in a little darker corner has come from the lawmakers, bureaucrats, state agencies or lobbyists. Every single one.
Finally, a representative from Publication Point LLC – a company that works with public notice ads in 10 states – testified that if Indiana does this, we will be the only state his company works with that handles sheriff sales this way.
The. Only. One.
Unbelievably, all the above did not deter the committee. They voted 7-3 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the full House – where hopefully representatives will take seriously the concept of keeping public information more open and not less.
Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton has said repeatedly in his monthly meetings with the public that elected officials should be more transparent, not less. I wish his cousins in Indianapolis understood that.

Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Tuesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at ttimmons@thepaper24-7.com.