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When you need a friend, it’s too late to make one. I can’t find who said this and maybe the quote isn’t exact, but it’s true.

Indiana newspaper publishers need to take this to heart with local state legislators. Otherwise, legislation that harms government transparency, democratic principles and newspapers will be passed.

Take the concept of publication of public notices. State governments before we gained our independence utilized newspapers to disseminate notices of actions taken. This concept was adopted by the new federal government in 1789 when the first session of Congress required the Secretary of State to publish all “bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes” in at least three publicly available newspapers.

Democratic self-rule requires the government to be accessible so citizens can make well-informed decisions. Public notices open a window into government activity so citizens can exercise their constitutional right to be heard.

Democratic self-rule requires the government to be accessible so citizens can make well- informed decisions. Public notices open a window into government activity so citizens can exercise their constitutional right to be heard.

Public notice laws are also based on the right of due process of law guaranteed by federal and state constitutions. Due process protects Americans’ fundamental rights from arbitrary or wrongful violation by giving citizens the opportunity to act before its government acts to restrict those rights.

Public notice not only informs the individual directly impacted, but the public in general, which has a vested interest in knowing how public power is wielded.

This idea is often lost on government bureaucrats who say the people who normally follow IDEM hearings or sheriff’s sales will know how to find the information if notices are eliminated from newspapers. There’s a reason it’s called public notice, not insiders’ notice or special interests notice.

The Internet can be a great tool in finding that piece of information that you have decided to find, but newspapers are far superior to the Internet for public notices because people don’t inherently know what or when government is acting on an item that will impact or interest them. When reading the local newspaper, we find those public notices we weren’t expecting to see.

Requiring independent, third-party newspapers to publish the notices also ensures the notices will be published in accordance with the law and prevents government officials from hiding information they would prefer the public not see. It’s not asking the foxes to guard the henhouse.

Repeated surveys have shown strong public support for government units to be required to publish notices in newspapers. During 26 Indiana General Assembly sessions I’ve never seen any citizen group initiate legislation to eliminate a publication requirement. That holds true with the more than 80 anti-public notice bills HSPA has fought against in the last 20 years.

The legislation comes from bureaucrats who don’t want to deal with the hassle of meeting newspaper deadlines to properly give notice or deep down don’t want citizens to speak up at public meetings. Or it’s special interests outside of government who don’t want to continue requirements for published notice that bring attention to their controversial projects.

All those opponents are asking legislators for relief from the burden of newspaper publication, which means newspapers need to educate legislators on the benefits of public notices and the public support for it.

That should start now, not in January the day before a hearing scheduled on an anti-public notice bill. If you don’t reach out to establish a relationship with your local legislators, don’t expect anyone else to do it on your behalf.

Steve Key is the executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

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