Iowa Senate advances bill on publishing public notices

(The Center Square) – Under a bill the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee advanced Wednesday, the Iowa Secretary of State would charge a $5 fee per public notice it would post in an online, searchable portal.

The bill lifts the requirement for agencies to publish such notices in a local newspaper. The posting entity would, at least three times between the enactment date and July 1, 2024, notify the public that entities will post public notices via the portal instead.

The online portal would be searchable by county, city, school district and public notice type. The monies would be deposited in the business administration fund.

The public posting entity would also post a physical copy of the public notice on a bulletin board.

Under a bill passed into law in 2000, the compensation newspapers receive for public notices receive was 34 cents for one insertion and 23 cents per subsequent insertion for each line of 8 point type 2 inches in length. Starting in June 2001, annually, the state printing administrator calculates a new rate for the following fiscal year by applying the percentage change in the consumer price index for all urban consumers for the last year to the existing rate as a change in the rate, rounded to the nearest one-tenth of a cent.

The Iowa Newspaper Association supported the 2000 bill. Rates have increased almost every year since 2000. They decreased in 2009 and 2015, the association said. Rates for the 2022-2023 fiscal year are 56.7 cents per line, or 38.2 cents per line for subsequent insertions.

Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said in the committee meeting Wednesday that the bill would likely save taxpayers between $8 million and $12 million.

The $5 would help sustain and maintain the portal, and local entities would be able to make immediate corrections to public notices, she said. Local entities are familiar with the Fast Track Filing system that they use for submissions to the Secretary of State.

Local entities could still choose to publish a public notice in the newspaper, and newspapers could still publish public notices, she said.

AFP-Iowa State Director Drew Klein, who registered support for the bill, told The Center Square in an emailed statement Wednesday that publication notices are one of many unfunded state mandates on local government.

It’s also a barrier to transparency, he said.

“These notices are often tucked away in the comics or at the end of ‘newsworthy’ content where only the people who are searching for them will find them. SF 480 is going to create a modern solution to an age-old issue of providing transparency,” Klein said. “Additionally, as independent, mom and pop owned papers continually get bought by Gannett, Lee, and other nationwide companies that have decreased investment in Iowa, this change becomes easier and easier to see as reasonable and needed.”

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said in committee that many Iowa older adults don’t know how to use the internet, so they’d be cut off from public notices, and the average Iowan won’t go to a public notices website.

“It’s going to be accessible, but nobody’s going to access it,” Dotzler said.

Iowa Newspaper Association, which has registered opposition to the bill, has an online, free-to-view database of public notices here.

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