House panel kills to move foreclosures to web

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Despite the sponsor’s plea to move out of the “horse and buggy days,” a House panel Tuesday killed a bill that could have led to foreclosure notices disappearing from newspapers and going to Internet sites, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Siding with the newspaper industry and groups such as AARP, the NAACP and Associated Industries of Florida, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 9-5 to reject HB 149.

Sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, argued that county clerks of court should be able to decide whether to continue the decades-old practice of publishing foreclosure notices in newspapers or placing them on non-newspaper websites. He described a state law requiring newspaper publication as “corporate welfare” for the industry and as an outdated monopoly.

“They’re up here protecting their interests,” Baxley said. “I’m trying to show you the future.”

But newspaper-industry officials said most papers already put notices online, along with publishing them in print. Also, opponents of the bill said many seniors, minorities and people in rural areas don’t have ready access to the Internet or don’t feel comfortable using it.

“When it comes to public notice, we should be aiming to cast the widest net possible,” said former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who represented a coalition that includes groups such as AARP and the NAACP.

Debates about publishing legal notices in newspapers have flared repeatedly in recent years, as the public has increasingly turned to the Internet for information and as government agencies have put more and more documents online.

Newspapers, meanwhile, have taken a financial hit as classified advertising has rushed to Internet sites, such as Craigslist.

Duval County Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller, a former Republican House member, told the subcommittee that he has moved toward becoming a paperless operation and backed Baxley’s bill for foreclosure notices.

“I would like the option in Duval County to do mine on the Internet,” Fuller said.

But Tammie Barfield, general manager of the weekly Wakulla News, said many people in rural areas of her readership south of Tallahassee don’t have good Internet access.

“We are the town center,” Barfield said. “People look to our newspaper to know what is going on in the community.”

Four Republicans joined five Democrats in voting against the bill, with some pointing to particular concerns about how it would affect seniors.

But supporters of the bill said it would leave it up to local clerks about whether they wanted to continue to run notices in newspapers or use a website. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who backed the bill, suggested opponents might have another motivation for voting no.

“People don’t want to upset their periodicals back home,” he said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.